BIDDEFORD — The Tyler Trottier that friends knew was courteous, hardworking and honest – not the serial robber who killed himself Thursday night as police closed in on his King Street apartment.
Those friends were stunned to learn Friday that the 27-year-old was the one who had been terrorizing local businesses through a string of 10 holdups since Thanksgiving. Then, as police tried to negotiate his surrender, he shot himself in the chest.
“He had never had issues in the past, no history of anything – not even a burglary or a theft,” said Ann Harris, a family friend, who said she was puzzled and saddened by Trottier’s death. “He wasn’t like that. He didn’t steal stuff from people … I know he had a gun. I don’t think he would have ever shot anybody.”
“All you’d have to do is look in this dude’s eyes and you’d know this was totally out of character,” said Hoss Coddens, who worked with Trottier in the restaurant business in Kennebunkport years ago and stayed friends. Coddens now owns his own Old Orchard Beach restaurant and said Trottier was dedicated to his landscaping business.
“He was a working man,” Coddens said, recalling how Trottier would sometimes show up in his restaurant covered in dirt from heard to toe, but always respectful. “I knew Tyler. This wasn’t him … It’s a tragic end to a scary situation,” he said.
Police say they may never know what prompted Trottier to commit armed robberies from Arundel to Saco, though mostly in his own downtown Biddeford neighborhood. The investigation will continue, Biddeford Police Chief Roger Beaupre said at a news conference Friday morning.
“It could very well be emotional rather than drug dependence. He had some emotional issues going on in his life,” Beaupre said, though he would not elaborate.
Police believe Trottier acted alone but continue to investigate to determine if anyone else was involved.
There is still a chance that someone else was involved in some way with the robberies.
‘HE WAS VERY RELAXED’
Trottier’s final robbery was at May Mee Chinese Restaurant on Main Street at 3:30 p.m. Thursday.
Anna Lin was working the counter when a man entered and placed a grape soda on the counter and asked how much it was. Lin was aware of the robberies and had even imagined herself running out the back door or hiding in a back room if she saw a man with a ski mask – which was part of an earlier description – coming in the door. But Trottier, whether out of resignation or cockiness, had stopped wearing a mask. The man in front of her seemed a normal customer, and wasn’t agitated at all she said.
He fumbled in his pocket for what she thought was the $1 for the soda, then pulled up a pistol.
Lin said she let out a brief scream. Her co-workers, who were eating lunch behind the restaurant, thought she had spilled something.
The robber calmly told her to be quiet and to give him all the money in the register.
“He was very relaxed,” she said. “He just said ‘Be quiet and get the money.’ ”
She quickly handed him cash, which police said later was about $60.
He walked out of the store with the money and soda, then started running up Main Street.
Police had been bracing for another holdup. The robberies had been occurring about once a day – sometimes twice – in the week since Thanksgiving and they worried the robber might at some point use the gun he had been flashing.
Business people were on edge.
“It was really nerve-wracking. I’m glad nobody else got hurt,” said Tammy Ackerman, owner of Engine, a Main Street boutique.
Bea Lan, who works at Yummy House, a Chinese restaurant across the street from the police station, said his boss’s wife had to take a vacation after being robbed Sunday.
The owner ran after the robber, Lan said, chasing the robber past the police station and losing him on King Street, just a block away from the station.
Officers scoured the area but could not find him. Trottier could almost see the station from his house.
Asked about the proximity to the station, Beaupre said: “Just because you live near a firehouse don’t mean your house won’t burn down.”
Police had learned some of the robber’s methods, including the fact that he tended to linger near a business, waiting until there were no customers inside. He didn’t get a lot of money either. Beaupre estimated about $4,000 was stolen in the 10 robberies.
When police were alerted to Thursday’s robbery, dozens of cruisers, representing state, county, municipal and even federal authorities – which had been positioned to respond to another robbery – surged into the downtown hoping to encircle the suspect. A total of 54 officers participated in the task force, Beaupre said.
“The purpose was to lock down (the area) and create a net to prevent the person form leaving,” Beaupre said.
But Trottier was able to slip through, in part because he only had a couple blocks to go before he could be safely in his second floor apartment.
A COUPLE OF SNAGS
The police response also hit a couple of snags. Witnesses who saw two men chasing the robber, thought the pair in pursuit had committed the robbery. Suddenly police had three very different suspect descriptions. Some people taken into custody turned out to be unrelated to the case.
There also was a delay in reporting the robber. Beaupre had encouraged a local civic group to save time by programming the direct number to Biddeford police into their cellphones. That way, rather than dialing 911 and having the call routed to the state police regional dispatch center in Gray, then relayed to Biddeford, the call would go directly to the city’s emergency dispatchers.
Anna Lin remembered getting a flier from the group with those instructions, but she didn’t have her cellphone and couldn’t remember the number. So she did an Internet search for the Biddeford Police Department and dialed a general number that eventually routed her to records. By the time the call was transferred to emergency dispatchers, a precious 90 seconds had elapsed.
Beaupre said a review of security video shows that a State Police cruiser drove by City Hall 15 seconds after the getaway car had passed.
Police did catch a break though. Thursday’s robbery was during the daytime, so surveillance video from a nearby business was relatively clear.
Video showed the robber running toward Center Street and, moments later, a pickup truck leaving the area. The gray GMC Sierra had distinctive items – a bicycle, a spare tire and a large plastic bucket – in the back. It slowed but didn’t stop for two separate stop signs.
Police began searching for the pickup and an officer found it on King Street. Police ran the plate number, found that Trottier was the registered owner and called him on his cellphone.
Police reached Trottier in his second-floor apartment and tried to convince him to come out, telling him that his truck had been in a crash. A doubtful Trottier then looked outside and saw numerous police officers, including members of the state police tactical team.
A negotiator told him to come down with his hands above his head, without his cellphone, which could be mistaken for a gun, Beaupre said. Trottier agreed, but then officers heard what sounded like a gunshot.
That was between 11 and 11:30 p.m. Trottier’s phone went unanswered after that. Police obtained a search warrant and entered the apartment about 1 a.m., finding Trottier dead of a bullet wound to the chest with a .40 caliber handgun beside him.
NO CRIMINAL RECORD
Beaupre said police do not know why Trottier robbed the businesses. He has no criminal record with the city and only a few driving citations, Beaupre said. There was no evidence of drug use in the apartment, he said.
He said that based on discussions with Trottier’s family, the young man may have been having some emotional difficulties, but he did not elaborate.
Trottier’s immediate family declined to comment.
Ann Harris, the family friend, said they are in shock like everyone else who knew Trottier as a typical Maine kid who liked snowmobiles and was well known through his paving and landscaping business.
“He was such a good kid,” she said outside Trottier’s apartment on Friday. “A good-natured kid, very well-mannered.” Harris was there to help Trottier’s family deal with issues associated with the building. His father owns the 21/2-story building and Trottier paid rent.
“I’ve known the family a long time. They’re just a good family, helpful, involved in the community.”
Harris said she did not recognize Trottier from the surveillance image or description distributed by police.
Harris never knew Trottier to have any substance abuse issues and said he stayed on top of finances, running his business very professionally. Harris is an insurance agent and handled Trottier’s policies. When she last saw him a month ago, he came to her office and he was cheerful and seemed well, she said.
“I honestly don’t think it was drug related,” she said. “He had a nice truck. He had nice things. He could have pawned things to get money.”
If he owed people money, “All he would have to do is call the family. They would have helped him. They’re that type of supportive family. Nobody would have left him hanging.”
‘IT IS A RELIEF, BUT WHAT’S NEXT?”
According to records at Biddeford District Court, Trottier was charged with criminal speeding for going 70 in a 35 mph on a motorcycle in 2007, though he ended up paying a speeding ticket. Several years ago he was charged with possession of a small amount of marijuana and, in a separate case, failure to stop for an officer. But he has no criminal convictions on his record according to the State Bureau of Identification.
A dispute over a rental security deposit in March led a Saco woman to seek a protection from harassment order against Trottier.
In her request for the order, Susan Riley said Trottier had given her a $600 deposit to hold a cottage, but then postponed moving in for several months until she finally rented it to someone else. She said she offered to refund $300 but had lost rental income while she held it.
She said Trottier demanded the full deposit, became furious and “in a fit of rage began making threats to me that I would be sorry and called me every name in the book.” A judge rejected the woman’s request for a restraining order saying the behavior did not meet the definition of abuse.
While some shopkeepers and residents greeted the end of the robbery spree with relief, it has left a mark.
“Who knows what’s going to happen next,” said Emmanuel Ashon, worried that the next outbreak of violence might strike a public gathering or occur in a busy restaurant. He said he remains anxious and worries about his children going to school.
“Every mother or parent is scared. It is a relief, but what’s next?”
Beaupre said one of the robberies, at Family Dollar, does not appear to be connected to Trottier. Police are still investigating that one.