October 14, 2010

Officer foils gunman 'here to kill people'

By David Hench dhench@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

A man who says he was prepared to kill at least two people attending an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting in a church basement Monday morning was arrested by a Portland High School resource officer as he loaded a high-powered rifle outside the church.

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Doug Jones/Staff Photographer, Monday, May 18, 2009: Students come and go frequently at the rear of Portland High where two men were arrested on firearms charges after a Portland police officer found them in and adjacent to a parked car there.

Doug Jones

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Officer Stephen Black said he was locking the rear school doors, as he does every day at 8 a.m., when he saw Herbert Jones, 46, holding a rifle in a small paved area behind the school known as Freshman Alley. He said he then saw Jones, whose back was to him, loading rounds into the gun.

Black drew his sidearm and ordered Jones to put down the gun, a 7 mm Remington. Jones complied immediately, Black said.

Jones seemed confused and said he was loading the rifle because he believed there were pedophiles at the morning AA meeting held in the basement of First Parish Unitarian Church, which abuts Freshman Alley.

''That was when I thought to myself, 'Oh, man, this guy is here to kill people,' '' Black said.

Jones confirmed as much in a jailhouse interview a few hours after his arrest.

Jones said he has bipolar disorder and has spent time in Spring Harbor psychiatric hospital. Two months ago, he said, he saw a documentary about pedophiles and became furious. He said he's had family members who were abused as children.

''I watch these vigilante shows. Why can't it be done?'' he said. ''I wanted to do an 'angel of the night' thing and catch somebody in the act -- pedophile, rapist, doesn't matter.''

Dressed in a yellow Cumberland County Jail jumpsuit, his hands cuffed, Jones occasionally sobbed and repeatedly said he was confused.

Jones said he planned to shoot a man at the meetings who he believes was a priest and a convicted pedophile.

''I believe he's possessed by a demon,'' Jones said. ''I see it in his eyes.''

Police said they are not aware of any registered sex offenders who participate in the morning AA meeting at the church.

Jones also said he's been obsessed with a 26-year-old woman, someone he bought gifts for and phoned often, but she told him to stop speaking to her. Jones conceded that he was troubled that the woman, whom he met at AA meetings, did not return his affection.

Asked whether he planned to shoot anyone else at Monday morning's meeting, Jones said he believed that another man might take advantage of the woman he likes.

''I was going to take him out, too,'' he said. ''I just wanted to protect her.''

Jones said Monday morning's shooting was to be his final act before he left for Massachusetts to start over, ''a clean slate.''

''I have to get out of Maine because I know demons are after me,'' he said.

Jones is charged with terrorizing, stalking, possession of a firearm in a school zone and being a felon in possession of a firearm.

The stalking charge stems from repeated telephone calls, cards and gifts to the woman who attends the morning AA meetings. A court complaint filed after Monday's incident states that the woman initially accepted Jones' gifts -- he took her to the mall, bought her clothes, and paid for her to have her nails and hair done.

He told her he had received a $30,000 settlement from Social Security.

At one point, he gave her a canister of pepper spray to protect herself. Later, she said, she carried it out of fear of him.

Jones would sometimes lose his temper during the AA meetings, and he had been forced to leave, making him angry at participants, according to court papers.

A check of the State Bureau of Identification in Maine shows Jones has no criminal history in the state. Police believe that he was convicted of a felony, aggravated larceny, in Florida several years ago.

Police and others said Black's good timing and quick reaction might have saved several lives.

''I don't think we're going out on a limb to say that Officer Black being in the right place at the right time and taking the right actions really probably avoided a tragedy,'' said Capt. Vern Malloch.

Jones, he said, ''had been making threats against people throughout the course of the weekend.''


Black said he was walking down an inclined hallway toward the back of the high school when he first saw Jones holding the rifle and standing next to a 2001 BMW convertible, its top down and the trunk open.

''He looked like a normal enough guy,'' Black said. ''I don't know what his intentions are. My first hope was he was going to secure the weapon in the trunk.''

Instead, Jones reached in and got ammunition, Black said.

''I knew his intentions weren't very good at that point,'' he said. ''You're not going to be loading a rifle behind my school.''

As Black approached, he saw that there also was a shotgun in the trunk, and another man, later identified as Walter Begaye, in the passenger seat of the car. There were two open beers in the car's console.

Begaye, 43, was charged with having a concealed weapon after a knife was found under his seat.

Jones said Begaye, whom he referred to as ''the chief,'' is a friend he met up with Sunday night in front of the Milestone shelter on India Street. Begaye is well-known to police and has been charged repeatedly with drinking in public. He was visibly intoxicated at the time of his arrest, police said.

Jones was given a field sobriety test and passed, Black said.

When Black called for backup, Officer Cong Van Nguyen was patrolling less than a block away. Van Nguyen took the rifle and ejected two rounds. In the car, police found 40 rounds of ammunition and four other knives.

Police later searched Jones' home on Valley Street and found another rifle and more ammunition.

Jones said he bought the guns at L.L. Bean a week ago. He said he wanted to go hunting, but admitted later that might have been an excuse to purchase the guns. He said he paid $1,900 for them.

Police said the felony conviction they believe Jones has in Florida includes a different date of birth for the recipient, which might have contributed to his ability to purchase the weapons. Having a criminal record prohibits the purchase of guns.

Jones is being held on $100,000 bail pending a court appearance.

Portland High School Principal Michael Johnson sent a letter home with students alerting parents to the incident. He said the school's only involvement was the work of its resource officer.

''At no time was the school in any kind of danger,'' Johnson said. The school was not locked down because the incident was over before anyone was even alerted to it.

Black noted that he has been involved in a number of high-stress, high-profile incidents during his 10 years on the force. He's been involved in a police shooting and a brutal fight with a suspect.

Monday's incident left him feeling pretty good.

''I think I saved a lot of lives today,'' Black said. ''The fact he was mad at everybody in that place. ... It's more scary now than when it actually happened.''


Staff Writer David Hench can be contacted at 791-6327 or at:



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Additional Photos

click image to enlarge

click image to enlarge

Doug Jones/Staff Photographer, Monday, May 18, 2009: Students come and go frequently at the rear of Portland High where two men were arrested on firearms charges after a Portland police officer found them in and adjacent to a parked car there.

Doug Jones


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