Maine State Police and Sanford police are investigating the shooting death of Portland Press Herald columnist M.D. Harmon at his home Wednesday afternoon in Sanford.
Police say Michael D. Harmon, 71, died at his home on Brunelle Avenue after a handgun he was showing to a teenage boy went off while the 16-year-old was handling it.
Harmon, a steadfast defender of gun rights and a champion of conservative viewpoints, was a longtime editor and columnist for the Press Herald/Maine Sunday Telegram. He worked for the newspaper for 41 years, and continued to write a weekly column after he retired in 2011.
The teenage boy and his father, both from North Berwick, were visiting Harmon’s home at the time of the shooting, police said. They have been cooperating with the investigation and detectives were expected to question them again Thursday.
Their names are not being released because the shooting is still under investigation, state police spokesman Steve McCausland said Thursday night.
“The circumstances under which the gun was introduced is still under investigation,” said McCausland, who did not know why the gun was loaded. “It is just one of the many questions we have.”
He declined to release further details Thursday. An autopsy of Harmon’s body will be done at the state Medical Examiner’s Office, and the case will be reviewed by the state Attorney General’s Office. The results of the autopsy were not available Thursday night.
Harmon’s wife, Margaret Harmon, declined Thursday to discuss details of the shooting, calling it an “accidental tragedy.”
Police have not described the type of handgun involved. They also have not disclosed what connection the teen and his father had to Harmon.
CONSERVATIVE, GUN-RIGHTS DEFENDER
Harmon graduated from high school in Pennsylvania before attending Bowdoin College in Brunswick, where he graduated cum laude in 1967. He served in the Army from 1967 to 1969, including a stint in Vietnam, and in the Army Reserves from 1970 to 1975.
Harmon started his career at the Evening Express and the Press Herald in 1970, working as a reporter before becoming city editor, managing editor and then an editorial writer. In retirement, he continued to write his weekly column and take on freelance assignments.
Harmon was known as a conservative thinker and a staunch defender of gun rights in his newspaper columns, including some that argued against the recent failed referendum to require background checks for private gun purchases.
In a Sept. 13, 1993, editorial column, Harmon wrote about the importance of everyone’s constitutional right to own a firearm.
“I view threats to that freedom as seriously as I do threats to my right to vote, or speak freely, or worship as I please,” he wrote.
In that same column, Harmon wrote that he had belonged to the National Rifle Association from the day of his first paycheck.
ORDAINED PRIEST, SCHOOL LEADER
In 2016, Harmon was ordained a priest in the Charismatic Episcopal Church. He served as a principal of the Church of the Prince of Peace School in Sanford, according to his LinkedIn page. He taught world history, English and American literature to juniors and seniors.
Harmon is survived by his wife, three children from a previous marriage, two stepchildren and several grandchildren.
Press Herald publisher Lisa DeSisto said Harmon’s former colleagues were saddened to learn of his death.
“He contributed his voice and perspective to thousands of readers for more than four decades,” she said. “Our thoughts are with his family and our colleagues who worked closely with him for those many years.”
Sen. Susan Collins released a statement Thursday reacting to Harmon’s death.
“I was saddened to learn of M.D. Harmon’s tragic death. For four decades, M.D. Harmon was a dedicated editor and columnist,” she said. “His passing is a loss to his family and friends, his colleagues, and to generations of readers across the state.”