About $15,000 in cash was stolen Saturday night from American Legion Post 86 in Gray by thieves who broke into a safe, a post official said.

Jason Hall, post adjutant, said the theft was discovered at about 6:15 a.m. Sunday by a maintenance man who opened the door to a scene of destruction. A thick coat of concrete dust covered every surface and there was the smell of burning rubber in the air.

Hall said the last person to leave the post was the bartender, who locked up at 10:05 p.m. after the post played host to a barbecue for American Legion National Commander Michael Helm of Nebraska, who wound up his Maine vacation at the Gray post. American Legion post members from across the state were on hand for the event.

Hall said the thief or thieves entered the building at 15 Lewiston Road around 11 p.m. They snipped off the wires to the security alarm and the phones and proceeded to break into a concrete lined metal safe with some sort of grinding tool. They also turned the key on the register, which automatically recorded the time, and emptied out the automatic teller machine. Hall said he does not know how much money was in the ATM.

Hall said it was unusual for there to be so much cash on hand, but their finance man was on vacation and the money had not been taken to the bank.

Hall said the maintenance worker had a golf tournament later on Sunday so he arrived early to clean. After discovering the mess, he dashed to his car and drove off to find a working phone, almost crashing head on into a cruiser from the Cumberland County Sheriff’s Office. He told the deputy in the cruiser what had happened.

Hall said post members are angry and upset.

“We are thinking, ‘Is it an inside job, or a friend of a friend?’ There are a lot of theories right now,” said Hall.

He said there have been several strange characters walking around the post in recent days. Post members are hoping it was not an American Legion member, who tend to be getting on in years, said Hall.

“I can’t see an 80-year-old veteran from another post coming in and pulling this off,” said Hall.

He said he is trying to determine whether the post’s insurance will cover any of the loss. He said $15,000 is about a quarter of the post’s annual fundraising, which goes to help out youth groups and needy area residents.

The sheriff’s department is investigating the crime.

The sheriff’s office is asking anyone who has any information about the incident to report it to Detective Sergeant Paul Thorpe at 774-1444 Ext. 2108.