March 18, 2010

Man charged in grisly killings

By DAVID HENCH and GREGORY D. KESICH Staff Writers

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Nielsen did not enter a plea, and spoke only to acknowledge his name when Justice Robert E. Crowley asked him to. Nielsen was returned to Oxford County Jail and will be held without bail at least until a court hearing next Tuesday. The case is expected to go before a grand jury the first week of October.

Nielsen graduated from Mount Blue High School in Farmington in 1994. He was a fairly anonymous student who apparently didn't participate in extracurricular activities, said assistant principal Randy Cook.

In the school yearbook, Nielsen was one of a handful of seniors who left a blank space in the part of the page used to describe school activities. That was uncommon, Cook said.

''It was rare that we had kids like that. We almost always have something for somebody,'' Cook said.

Robin Zinchuk, director of the Bethel Area Chamber of Commerce, said she supervised Nielsen in a church youth group in the mid-1980s, but recalled little else about him.

A classmate, Christopher Neal, 30, of Farmington said Nielsen was popular among a group of students who enjoyed alternative music known as ''grunge music.''

He said Nielsen was a quiet student who sometimes displayed a dark or ''barbed'' sense of humor. ''I never knew him too be psychotic,'' he said. ''It is quite shocking to learn that he might be.''

State mental health officials said they could not release information on whether Nielsen had ever sought treatment for mental illness.

Carol Carothers, National Alliance for the Mentally Ill Maine, cautioned against assuming Nielsen is mentally ill because of the details of the crime.

''I think that there's sometimes a perception that if a person is really violent, they're mentally ill. That's not necessarily true,'' Carothers said. ''Generally speaking, all human beings can be violent.''

Kenny Brechner, 44, who owns a downtown bookstore, said Nielsen often came in to pick up books for his father, Charles Nielsen, head of the English Department at Dirigo High School in Dixfield.

The father is a highly respected member of the community, Brechner said. But his son was seen as a loner. ''He was an odd kid,'' he said. ''His affect was not normal.''

But there was nothing about him that suggested he would commit crimes like the ones he is accused of, Brechner said.

Nielsen's parents declined comment when contacted by telephone. Nielsen declined media requests for an interview.

Before Nielsen moved to the Bethel area, he lived in a five-unit apartment house at 248 High St. in Farmington. For several years he worked as a cook at Farmington restaurants, including the Homestead on Broadway. About a year ago he was fired from his job at the Family Fare after working for only a few months, said Dominique Nelson, 26, a waitress there.

She described him as an ''awkward loner'' who kept to himself and was often rude to co-workers. ''He didn't last long. Nobody got along with him,'' Nelson said. ''He was very strange.''

Still, he was not the kind of person who could be violent or even get in a fistfight, Nelson said. He seemed to be struggling with an internal conflict, she said.

''He had a lot on his shoulders,'' she said. ''He was burdened by something.''

Nielsen had little in the way of a criminal record before his arrest Monday. He had several traffic offenses and was charged with drunken driving in 1998.

''The name didn't jump out as somebody that we knew,'' said Farmington Police Chief Richard Caton III.

Nielsen's last brush with Farmington police was in August 2005 when he was issued a summons for driving after his license was suspended.

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