State Rep. Karen Gerrish  of Lebanon is very much alive, contrary to a false post on a Facebook page Tuesday night that said a state legislator had been found dead under suspicious circumstances in Lebanon. The post has since been taken down. COURTESY PHOTO

State Rep. Karen Gerrish of Lebanon is very much alive, contrary to a false post on a Facebook page Tuesday night that said a state legislator had been found dead under suspicious circumstances in Lebanon. The post has since been taken down. COURTESY PHOTO

LEBANON — State Rep. Karen Gerrish is very much alive, despite a post that appeared on a Facebook page on Tuesday evening that indicated otherwise.

The false posting disturbed Gerrish, who suddenly found herself in the position of notifying her family members, friends, colleagues and constituents that she was indeed very much alive. 

“It took my breath away and I knew I had to get into damage mode fast,” said Gerrish in a telephone interview early Wednesday.

Gerrish, a Republican, represents House District 20 in the Maine Legislature. The district includes the town of Lebanon, where she lives, Acton, and part of Shapleigh. She is a school teacher as well as a state legislator.

The posting, on a Facebook page called Maine Police & Fire Alerts, claimed there had been reports of a suspicious death in Lebanon and that a state representative had been found deceased in a home.

Gerrish is the sole member of the Maine House of Representatives whose district includes Lebanon.

Maine Police & Fire Alerts Facebook page is one Maine police agencies know quite well.

Maine Public Safety spokesman Steve McCausland said the posting about Gerrish — and false postings that appeared last week during the hunt for the suspect charged with killing Somerset County Corporal Eugene Cole — are irresponsible,  unreliable, and that the page is not to be trusted.

“This particular Facebook user has posted extremely irresponsible posts for months,” said McCausland. “The Rep. Gerrish post was probably the most outrageous.”

He said readers need to be cautious. While mindful of First Amendment rights to free speech, McCausland pointed out that citizens also have a right to know that a source is legitimate.

“This Facebook page is not legit,” said McCausland. “He (the page owner) posts incredibly false information. Most Maine media knows he is not legit, but the issue is that many Facebook users still think if it is on Facebook it has got to be true. That is not the case on this Facebook page.”

The posting appeared sometime Tuesday evening and was still on the page early Wednesday morning, although it had disappeared by 8:50 a.m.

Two messages left with the administrator of the page seeking comment were not returned on Wednesday.

Gerrish said it disturbs her that seemingly the only way to report the Maine Police & Fire Alerts page to Facebook is through the page itself and that once that happens, the page administrator is notified — and she said that she doesn’t want to have contact with him.

“I felt frustrated I couldn’t report this without going through that page,” said Gerrish. 

As well, she is mindful of the First Amendment guarantee of free speech.

“I’m a supporter of the Constitution,” said Gerrish. “I don’t want to infringe on things people can say, but I feel that is crossing the line.”

Gerrish said when she was told about the posting, she immediately contacted her family members and others close to her. She said she also thought of her students, as she teaches Kindergarten through grade 5, and was worried that their parents would be in the position of telling the little ones that their teacher had passed away.

Gerrish was teaching on Tuesday and was absent from the Republican caucus in Augusta. She finished up at school late in the afternoon, had dinner and then drove to Augusta. She was unloading her car when her cell phone began to ring and text messages began to pile up.

Gerrish said she notified Maine State Police, who promptly returned her call. They advised her to also notify the Capitol Police and the Maine Attorney General’s Office.

Lt. William Ross, commander of Maine State Police Troop A in Alfred, said the agency is looking into what they can do about the matter.

“It is something we’re looking at from a criminal standpoint,” said Ross.

As for readers, just like McCausland, Ross said one lesson to be learned is buyer beware.

“When you see these posts, pause for a minute and check other news sites, newspapers, and outlets,” Ross advised.

Maine Sheriff’s Association President Kevin Joyce, who is the sheriff of Cumberland County, said postings on the website, which has 36,000 followers, are a concern, but said information his officers have gleaned indicate their hands may be tied.

“According to the people we’ve asked, it’s a First Amendment right,” said Joyce. “I’ve been trying to tell people ‘don’t friend him and if you do, understand (the page) isn’t fact checked and (the information)  may or may not be accurate.”

In an interview with a Portland television station that aired in January, Gregory Powers of Sabattus said he created the page for fun and entertainment. 

Gerrish isn’t laughing.

“I appreciate people reaching out,” Gerrish said. “It’s a horrendous thing to announce you’ve passed away.”

— Senior Staff Writer Tammy Wells can be contacted at 324-4444 (local call in Sanford) or 282-1535, ext. 327 or [email protected]

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