M.D. Harmon, the longtime Portland Press Herald/Maine Sunday Telegram columnist who died of a gunshot wound on Dec. 28, was killed when a gun he thought he had unloaded went off while being handled by a teenage family friend who had helped him move some furniture.

Maine State Police said Monday that the Attorney General’s Office will not pursue criminal charges.

Harmon, 71, was in the basement of his home in Sanford with the son of a family friend when he unloaded a .357 revolver and handed it to the teenager, who was unfamiliar with firearms, according to the report released by the Office of Chief Medical Examiner.

But Harmon apparently had not emptied every chamber, and when the boy cocked the firearm and pretended to shoot it, the gun went off, according to the medical examiner’s records.

The bullet struck Harmon in the neck and chest, damaging his carotid artery. He died at the scene.

M.D. Harmon

“On the day of his death, there was a father and teenage son who were friends and were helping the Harmons move some furniture,” the investigative report said. “As partial payment, Mr. Harmon offered the family a gun.”

The father suggested that his son, who was not familiar with guns, go to the basement so Harmon could show them to him, according to the report. The father and son went downstairs to see the firearms, and the father of the boy went back up the stairs.

“As he climbed the stairs, he heard a gunshot,” the report said.

Police have not identified the teenager.

The medical examiner’s report is the most detailed account of how the gun went off.

According to the records, the teenager told police that Harmon opened the cylinder of the revolver and tipped the gun back to unload it.

“The firearm examination indicates that while the bullets can be emptied from the cylinder by tipping the gun, they do not consistently all fall out,” wrote Dr. Margaret Greenwald in a Feb. 23 report. “There is also a safety that prevents the gun from firing unless the trigger is pulled but the report also shows that the gun has lighter than normal trigger pull. Given the circumstances, the investigation by police and the firearms examination, there is no evidence that the gun was fired intentionally.”

Harmon’s wife, Margaret Harmon, said she did not want to comment on the death report, but said that her late husband was close with the teenager and they were talking normally.

“The son and my husband were good friends and they were just talking,” Harmon said. “It was just a normal friendship type thing. It’s just, you have no clue, none of you, what we’ve gone through. I just wish people would let this story go away. It’s a very hard thing.”

Harmon was a longtime editor and columnist and an advocate of conservative views, including gun rights. He worked for the newspaper for 41 years.

The teenage boy and his father are both from North Berwick.

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.

Matt Byrne can be contacted at 791-6303 or at:

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