Friday, March 7, 2014
Shirley Leighton was a petite woman who slept little and worked hard and was devoted to her son, even as he battled mental illness and alcoholism.
Andrew Leighton appears with his attorney, Robert LeBrasseur, in court Monday. Leighton’s struggles with mental illness and alcoholism devastated his mother, who felt powerless to help, friends say.
Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer
Leighton, 68, whose son is now charged with killing her, was remembered by her friends and family Tuesday as a "wonderful" and "super" person, an energetic woman and a creative artist who started her own business sewing and selling organic-catnip pillows for cats, in addition to working for Cuddledown and L.L. Bean.
She and her husband, Thomas, suffered with their son for years as he struggled with bipolar disorder, depression and alcoholism.
Married and divorced three times, Andrew Leighton, 46, has two children out of state and is not allowed to see them, friends said.
Kristen Angis knows the family well. She was married to Andrew Leighton in the early 1990s. She stopped by to visit his mother about five months ago.
"She would talk about him and cry," Angis said. "She said he had a nervous breakdown. His life wasn't doing well for him."
Angis was sympathetic. She remembers the Andrew Leighton who was a charmer. She shared their wedding photo – even though she has remarried in the intervening 20 years – on social media so people could see the fun, happy-go-lucky person he was as a young man.
"It's just a shame people will portray him as a vicious murderer who killed his own mother," she said. "He loved his mother very much. They were a very close family."
Andrew Leighton was charged with murder Friday, accused of shooting his mother in their home in Falmouth as she prepared to call Spring Harbor Hospital in Westbrook to have him committed. His father found her body and fought with Andrew before getting out of the house and running for help.
Andrew Leighton held off police for five hours before he surrendered late Friday night and police found his mother's body. He had bought a .40-caliber handgun the day before the shooting.
It was the culmination of years of quiet struggle for the family.
"They were very private people," Angis said. "They were just very heartbroken that they couldn't save their own son."
Shirley Leighton came from Freedom and graduated from the Maine College of Art in Portland, said Sumner Daniels, Thomas Leighton's cousin.
Thomas Leighton grew up in Damariscotta and graduated from Northeastern University in Boston. He tried teaching school but didn't care for it.
They had Andrew and his younger sister, Kate.
Andrew Leighton was a nice kid who mowed neighbors' lawns, said Steve Ryder, who for decades has lived a few doors away from the Leightons on Edgewater Road.
Ryder, who raised two daughters, said, "They all had crushes on Andy. He was a good-looking guy."
Tom Leighton went into commercial real estate and his son followed him into the business. The Leightons had a summer house in Harpswell.
When Angis married Leighton, she was still a teenager and he was three years older.
"We were dating for the longest time. I knew he was a recovering alcoholic when I married him. I actually called off the wedding the first time," she said.
After he had a period of sobriety, she eventually said yes. But soon after the wedding, he started drinking again, and taking lithium and Prozac, she said.
She believed he was manic depressive.
"He would be happy-go-lucky one minute, and the next he'd be in a funk and be by himself for days at a time," she said. "He was very mad at himself, almost like he wanted help."
They divorced after two years of marriage. Andrew Leighton remarried twice, and worked for some years in Eastport. He moved in with his parents about six years ago.
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