NORTH YARMOUTH — Police are trying to determine whether a Yarmouth man was justified in fatally shooting a Georgetown man during a confrontation Sunday.

Merrill “Mike” Kimball, 70, of Yarmouth, shot and killed Leon Kelley, 63, outside Brown’s Bee Farm off Greely Road on Sunday afternoon, say Maine State Police.

Each man is related to a co-owner of the business. Kelley, a lobsterman from Georgetown, was a son-in-law of Stan Brown, a well-known beekeeper who founded the business and remains an owner. Kimball, a lobsterman from Yarmouth, is married to Karen Thurlow-Kimball, who police said also is an owner.

Police did not arrest Kimball on Sunday, saying he has been cooperative and they are still trying to determine what prompted the shooting and the extent of the confrontation that preceded it.

“There is no threat to the public, number one, and, number two, we need to understand the circumstances under which this shooting occurred,” state police spokesman Steve McCausland said Monday.

“Kimball has been cooperative with investigators,” he said. “We have talked to him and we probably will talk to him again.”

There were reports of shoving just before the shooting, though police would not confirm those reports.

An autopsy by the state medical examiner showed that Kelley died of multiple gunshots to the torso.

Deputy Attorney General William Stokes said police had more investigating to do before determining whether the shooting was criminal homicide.

Police were called to Brown’s Bee Farm, near the Val Halla Golf and Recreation Center, just after 3 p.m. Sunday for reports of a shooting. The business is right behind Brown’s house at 239 Greely Road, off a dirt road called Honey Comb Drive.

Kelley was taken in an ambulance to Maine Medical Center in Portland, but died en route.

He was remembered by friends Monday as a salt-of-the-earth native son. Those friends struggled to accept that he was shot and killed.

“I’ve known him my whole life,” said Bill Plummer, a selectman in Georgetown, as he grabbed lunch at the Georgetown Country Store.

“We didn’t believe it. Then I saw his truck on the news. It was sickening,” Plummer said.

He said Kelley was from Georgetown, served in Vietnam and, after he returned, moved to Massachusetts and became a truck driver. Twenty years ago, he settled back in town and became a lobsterman.

The Maine humorist Tim Sample used to live in Georgetown, and over time got to know Leon Kelley as a friend and a familiar face on the town’s waterfront. Sample said he knew Kelley for more than 20 years and he was a great person to be around because of his big heart and work ethic.

“He was a big, tall, handsome guy who looked like a lobsterman from central casting,” Sample said.

George Dufour, Georgetown’s harbormaster, said he moved to town 11 years ago and had known Kelley since then. “I used to buy lobster from him,” Dufour said.

After he became harbormaster eight years ago, they continued to get along well.

“I never saw him get too riled up except when I was telling him what to do,” Dufour said with a smile. “Fishermen don’t like to be told what to do.”

But in a small town like Georgetown, population 1,000, they do help each other out in a crisis. Dufour said Georgetown residents have already started volunteering to help haul and winterize Kelley’s boat.

The 23-foot, green-hulled lobster boat bobbed at its mooring off the Five Islands section of town Monday. A raw rain fell and a windblown chop kept most fishermen from going out. The picturesque harbor, busy during the summer tourism season, was almost deserted.

Dufour stared out at the gray harbor.

“It’s quite a shame – some kind of family altercation – push came to shove … push, push, push and it got beyond the limit,” he said.

Kelley’s son Bryan Kelley, who also lives in Georgetown, said he did not want to comment about his father’s death. He said he and his father’s wife had more pressing things to do.

Kelley’s sister-in-law Anne Brown said the loss is painful.

“He was such a great guy. When he hugged you, boy, you knew it,” she said. “This is the worst thing that could happen.”

Rusty Parmenter, a lobsterman who lives in Yarmouth near Kimball, couldn’t say what led to the shooting. He said he has known Kimball for almost 20 years, since Parmenter was a teenager.

“I think he’s a good man,” he said. “Hardworking, keeps to himself.”

It was unclear whether the business relationship between Thurlow-Kimball and Stan Brown, who is 93 and in declining health, contributed to a dispute between the two families.

Ron Lefebvre, Kelley’s nephew, said the shooting has shaken Stan Brown, his grandfather.

“He’s (nearly) 94 years and he’s sick,” Lefebvre said. “This doesn’t help.”

Reached at his home Monday, Brown said he couldn’t hear very well and handed the phone to his daughter, Anne Brown.

“I wished I knew what happened,” she said. “Police haven’t told us anything, but they are working really hard to figure it out.”

Staff Writers Dennis Hoey, Eric Russell and Leslie Bridgers contributed to this report.

David Hench can be contacted at 791-6327 or at:

dhench@pressherald.com