NORRIDGEWOCK — On what would have been Cpl. Eugene Cole’s 62nd birthday, the community came together for a bridge dedication in honor of the Somerset County sheriff’s corporal who was shot and killed while on duty this spring.

Killed in the line of duty on April 25

The bridge spanning the Kennebec River on Route 201A in Norridgewock was officially named the Cpl. Eugene Cole Memorial Bridge on Sunday afternoon with his wife, Sheryl, and family in attendance.

“The dedication of this amazing bridge behind us is fitting tribute. Gene was a bridge,” said Norridgewock Town Manager Richard LaBelle. “He created a more lasting bridge between law enforcement and the community, a bridge between neighbors, and he was a bridge for many young deputies as they became more experienced throughout the course of their careers.”

Tom Cole, left, brother of Eugene Cole who was killed this year while on duty for the Somerset County Sheriff’s Office, hugs his nephew, Joe Cole, prior to the Corporal Eugene Cole Memorial Bridge dedication ceremony in Norridgewock on Sunday. Sitting at right is Sheryl Cole, Eugene Cole’s widow. Staff photo by David Leaming

The ceremony, which drew a large crowd to the south side of the bridge, included remarks from several local, state and federal officials about the life and legacy of Cpl. Cole.

“Corporal Cole was many things to many people,” said Rep. Brad Farrin, a Republican who represents Norridgewock, Madison, and Solon in the Maine House of Representatives. “A dedicated public servant, a family man who kept a watchful eye on our towns. A musician and a mentor. To all of us both in life, and now in death, he is a hero whose memory deserves to be honored.”

Farrin, who is from Norridgwock, introduced legislation ultimately passed by both the House and Senate to rename the bridge. He thanked many others, including state Sen. Nate Libby, a Democrat representing Lewiston who grew up in Norridgewock, co-sponsored the bridge legislation and was unable to attend the event Sunday.

In written remarks that Farrin read to the crowd, Libby called Cole “a person we would go to with our problems, a person we could trust – a family member.”

Cole, who lived in Norridgewock, was shot and killed while on patrol in the town during the early hours of April 25. It was the first police officer shooting death in Maine in nearly 30 years.

The shooting happened just minutes after Cole apparently stopped to check on John D. Williams, who had duffel bags and a bulletproof vest after being dropped off at a driveway around 1 a.m. Williams, 29, was arrested in Fairfield after state, local and federal authorities converged on the area for a massive four-day manhunt. He made his first court appearance on April 30 and was charged with murder, later pleading not guilty.

Sen. Susan Collins, right, hugs Sheryl Cole, widow of slain Somerset County Sheriff’s Cpl. Eugene Cole, prior to the dedication ceremony of a bridge named in his honor in Norridgewock on Sunday. Staff photo by David Leaming

“On April 25, our community experienced what can only be described as a senseless tragedy with the murder of one of our own: Cpl. Eugene Cole of the Somerset County Sheriff’s Office. Although this ordeal is nothing sort of a tragedy, I am incredibly proud of how our community banded together to support law enforcement in their effort to bring the suspect into custody.”

Farrin later introduced Somerset County Sheriff Dale Lancaster.

“Gene was taken away from us unexpectedly, leaving a void that is felt by many, and can never be filled,” Lancaster said, noting that the shooting took place only a few hundred yards from the stage. “Today, it is a bittersweet day. We dedicate this bridge to Gene. We dedicate his service to the county, to the state, and to the citizens of Norridgewock.”

Lancaster called the bridge “a daily reminder of Gene’s ultimate sacrifice” and a place to reflect on who Cole was as a person.

“I believe that Gene would have been humbled and honored to know how this community came together to remember his service,” he said.

The Norridgewock Board of Selectmen unanimously approved the bridge dedication, and LaBelle previously said the town was approached by Lancaster about renaming the bridge after Cole. LaBelle said Lancaster asked him and the Board of Selectmen to draft a letter showing full support of the name change. Norridgewock also declared April 25 as Corporal Eugene Cole Day.

Evelyn LaCroix sings the National Anthem on Sunday during the Corporal Eugene Cole Memorial Bridge dedication ceremony in Norridgewock. Standing from left are Kennebec County and Somerset County District Attorney Maeghan Maloney, Pastor Kevin Brooks and Somerset County Sheriff Dale Lancaster salute. Staff photo by David Leaming

“Over the last several months, our community has been through so much together, from that awful early morning in April, to the rejuvenation of our strong community spirit, we have mourned together and we have celebrated his life together,” LaBelle said during the ceremony. “Norridgewock is stronger. Somerset county has built a more durable bond. From this great loss we have gained a better perspective, a greater appreciation, and a deeper respect. Gene was a bridge.”

Along with an invocation from Pastor Kevin Brooks and remarks by Somerset County District Attorney Meaghan Maloney, Sunday’s event also included remarks from two of Maine’s federal representatives: U.S. Sen. Susan Collins and U.S. Rep. Bruce Poliquin.

“He was a hero, not just because of the way that his life ended, but because of the way he lived it – always caring for the people of these communities,” Collins said of Cole.

Collins also spoke directly to Sheryl Cole, telling her “your husband will never be forgotten.”

Norridgewock resident Julie Austin said she didn’t know Cpl. Cole but felt it was important to attend the event Sunday.

“He was a hero – he put his life on the line every day,” she said.

Shirley Phillips, of Mercer, said she had known Cole for years and that he was a “wonderful man” who was “well-liked in all of Somerset County.”

After the remarks portion of the event, the Cole family and officials helped lead a procession across the bridge that included the unveiling of several signs and plaques dedicated to Cpl. Cole.

“Let’s show the Cole family how much we love and respect them,” Farrin said while encouraging the crowd to join the procession.

During the walk across the bridge, Paul and David Wright of Detroit identified themselves as Cole’s cousins.

“It means everything,” Paul Wright said about the outpouring of support for the Cole family. “And he was quite the man.”

Morning Sentinel reporter Doug Harlow contributed to this report.