ROCKLAND — Harvey Lembo says he’s nothing special, just a “regular Joe” who bought a vintage revolver Monday, pulled it from beneath his pillow that night and shot an intruder.
The 67-year-old retired lobsterman, who is hard of hearing and winces in pain when he moves from his motorized wheelchair to a stuffed sitting chair, said he just got tired of people ripping him off.
Police charged the alleged intruder, Christopher Wildhaber, 45, with burglary after a surgeon removed the 7 mm slug that Lembo fired into his shoulder.
Lembo said he had lamented to a friend over the weekend that he was tired of having his one-bedroom apartment burglarized – five times in six years, he said, the most recent incident just two weeks ago.
The friend said he had a gun and if anybody robbed him, he would shoot them.
Lembo thought about it for a day, and then decided to get a weapon for himself, picking up a 1941 Russian-made revolver. He wouldn’t disclose where he bought the long-barreled weapon that he said looks like something the Royal Canadian Mounted Police might carry.
“I never planned on using it,” Lembo said.
On Monday night, he was awakened – he’s not sure by what – and noticed that the clock read 12:04 a.m. He saw a shadow pass from the kitchen toward his living room. At first he thought it was his cat, Mittens, but the shadow was too big.
“I pulled my gun out from under the pillow, got in the wheelchair, rolled out here and he was standing here at my pills,” Lembo said during an interview in his living room Tuesday. The room was lit Monday night by the light he leaves on all the time.
Lembo said Wildhaber told him “I’m here to rob you like everybody else.”
Lembo described the burglar as clean-cut, wearing khaki shorts and a white T-shirt. He ordered the man to sit on the coffee table against a wall while he called police.
“I told them, ‘I got him under a gun. If he makes a move, I’m going to shoot him.’ ”
“I don’t know what he was on, but he was out of his mind,” Lembo said, demonstrating how Wildhaber kept looking down and covering his face with his hands.
When Wildhaber bolted toward the kitchen and the apartment’s front door, Lembo turned and fired, putting a slug in the fleeing man’s shoulder.
“I got a little scream out of him,” he said.
POSSIBLY VIEWED AS EASY TARGET
Lembo lives in the Park Street Apartments, just a couple of blocks from the public safety building, and police got there quickly.
“The girl on the phone heard the shot,” he said.
Officers followed the trail of blood toward the sound of rustling bushes and found Wildhaber hiding in the woods along the complex’s back parking lot.
Wildhaber was taken into custody after struggling briefly despite the gunshot wound to his shoulder. He was taken for medical treatment to Penobscot Bay Medical Center in Rockport, then to Maine Medical Center in Portland. He was released from the hospital and taken to Cumberland County Jail in Portland and charged with a probation violation and burglary.
Wildhaber had served time in prison on charges of domestic violence assault this year, according to Maine state criminal records. He also has served time for drug trafficking, state records show.
He was expected to be returned Tuesday or Wednesday to Knox County Jail, where he will be scheduled for arraignment. He was being held without bail.
Lembo said he had never seen Wildhaber before. He suspects the person who stole from him last month, taking prescription pills that included morphine and oxycodone, $1,000 and the key to his safe deposit box, had spread the word that he was an easy mark.
Deputy Police Chief Christopher Young said police could find no sign of forced entry and believe Wildhaber may have opened an unlocked door.
Lembo said his adrenaline was pumping after the confrontation, and an ambulance came to the apartment to take his blood pressure and give him oxygen. He said he has diabetes and has survived multiple heart attacks. By late Tuesday afternoon, he still hadn’t slept.
“I just don’t feel like I’m any important person,” he said. “I’m just an ordinary Joe who goes about his business.”
AN ARGUMENT FOR GUN RIGHTS
Jeff Weinstein, president of the Maine Gun Owners Association, said the episode illustrates the kind of responsible gun ownership that should get more attention.
“It reaffirms the importance of the Second Amendment when properly employed for self-defense,” Weinstein said.
That Lembo encountered a threat the same day he bought his gun is also a persuasive argument against mandatory waiting periods, Weinstein said.
Although it’s not clear what the outcome would have been if Lembo hadn’t been armed, it might have been serious, Weinstein said.
“In some situations, a delay can be fatal,” he said.
Although Lembo isn’t a Second Amendment activist, he said having a gun seems like common sense now.
“Everybody should bear arms,” he said. “If everybody beared arms, we wouldn’t have this (crime) problem.
“I don’t think anybody is going to come in here now.”