A homemade pizza. Money for a celebratory meal. A purple stuffed animal. A kind word.
Chance David Baker didn’t have much, but he gave whatever he could.
Armed with a rifle-style pellet gun, Baker, 22, was shot and killed by a Portland police officer Feb. 18 after a confrontation in the parking lot of Union Station Plaza on St. John Street. On Friday night, at least 70 people – friends, former co-workers and strangers – gathered in Monument Square in Portland for a candlelight vigil in his memory.
Baker’s death has fueled a debate about how soon police body cameras should be introduced in Portland, and the shooting is being investigated by the Maine Attorney General’s Office and by Portland police, as is standard practice.
But on Friday night, one person after another focused on Baker himself – and told stories of his unfailing generosity.
Zach Cunningham remembered his time working with Baker at Nickelodeon Cinemas in Portland. Baker had described in detail his favorite pizza combination – a homemade concoction topped with buffalo chicken, cheese and Fritos.
“I think he could see my enthusiasm as he spoke about this pizza,” Cunningham, 24, said. “One day, I come into work and he hands me this ball of tinfoil.”
It was the pizza. Cunningham ate it right there outside the theater.
“He was so happy that I liked it,” he said. “That’s the kind of guy Chance was.”
Paula Dyar remembered the overnight shifts she worked with Baker at the Hampton Inn on Fore Street. She used to tease him by repeatedly singing the Toys R Us jingle – “I don’t want to grow up, I want to be a Toys R Us kid.” So for her birthday, he bought her a purple toy cat from Toys R Us.
“Just knowing he was going through so much and he stopped just to do that for my birthday, I think that probably will stay with me forever,” said Dyar, 40.
Tasha Horton, another co-worker from the Hampton Inn, remembered Baker’s gratitude as well. She would sometimes bring McDonald’s meals into work for him, and she said she has saved his text message orders for Chicken McNuggets.
“He acted like I was bringing him steak from Fore Street restaurant,” she said.
Jillian – a friend of Baker who declined to give her last name – remembered when he heard that a co-worker at Nickelodeon Cinemas got accepted into college. He gave the co-worker money for a celebratory meal at a favorite nearby restaurant.
“The money that he gave him was a lot more than the cost of the meal, and we all know that Chance didn’t have a lot of material goods or money in his life,” she said. “But he asked that person to put (the extra) money in the tip jar of the restaurant.”
Amanda Nobbe, a former general manager at the movie theater, remembered the day Baker applied for his job. She hired him because his charisma outweighed his lack of customer service experience. At the time, Baker was staying at the teen center on Preble Street.
“He worked so hard every day to make his life better,” said Nobbe, 26. “I watched him secure housing, get a second job and work 40 hours or more every single week. He had so much passion for life, for making his life better, and everyone who knew him was a witness to that. Life didn’t give Chance a lot of opportunities, so he made his own.”
An aunt of Baker reached out to Maine news media after Baker’s death. She said his family had not heard from him for six or seven years, since he left his home in Iowa. His mother shared a letter with his friends, which Cunningham read aloud at the vigil.
“Chance was an amazing person with the biggest heart,” she wrote. “He would take the time to lend an ear, to say, ‘Hi, how are you?’ to complete strangers, or just share a smile from ear to ear. So often in this day and time, we forget just how … something so simple can make a huge difference to someone. Please remember this and continue Chance’s kindness throughout your lives.”