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Man shot in home a few miles from church where arsenic found
By Associated Press, 05/02/03
NEW SWEDEN, Maine -- A man affiliated with the church whose parishioners were poisoned by arsenic was found shot at his home Friday in Woodland, the next town over, police said.
Daniel Bondeson, 53, died at 6:30 p.m. after being taken into surgery at Cary Medical Center in Caribou, the hospital reported.
Police said they were looking into possible links between the shooting and the poisonings Sunday that killed a 78-year-old man and sickened 15 other church members.
The circumstances of the shooting remained a mystery, and Lt. Dennis Appleton of the Maine State Police said it could have been self-inflicted, accidental or caused by someone else.
Police were called to the Bondeson home around 3 p.m., but police would not say by whom.
Investigators were obtaining a warrant and planned to begin a search of Bondeson's farmhouse Saturday.
Appleton said police would be "very remiss" if they failed to investigate the possibility that the shooting was connected to the poisonings at Gustaf Adolph Lutheran Church, a case characterized by police as a homicide.
"We have information that he is affiliated in some manner with the church in New Sweden," Appleton said.
He said Bondeson's family are church members but he did not know whether Bondeson was a member or if he was at the church Sunday.
One of seven siblings, Bondeson was a farmer who also worked as a substitute gym teacher and ski coach, said Lou Ann Skidgel, owner of Lu's Sunrise Market in Woodland. He lived with his father, who died last year, she said.
News of the shooting surfaced after investigators said they were requesting fingerprint and DNA samples from all church members and seeking help from the FBI in profiling the type of person who would use arsenic to try to poison a congregation.
Also, health officials said lives may have been saved because of quick access to arsenic antidotes stockpiled after the Sept. 11 attacks. The stockpile was purchased with federal bioterrorism grants.
"Having a stockpile of chemical antidotes may very well have been life-saving," said Dr. Dora Anne Mills, director of the Maine Bureau of Health.
Two of the victims who drank arsenic-tainted coffee after the Sunday service were still in critical condition Friday at Eastern Maine Medical Center in Bangor.
A day after state police declared the poisonings to be a crime, not an accident, police asked for fingerprint and DNA samples from all 50 or so members of the church in this potato farming community.
Investigators want the fingerprints and DNA to provide matches to evidence taken from the church since the detectives arrived Monday, said Appleton, the lead investigator.
State police are also seeking help to paint a picture of what kind of person would do such a thing.
"We don't have a profile yet, although we are reaching out to the FBI to work on that issue," he said.
Many of the survivors were being treated at the Cary Medical Center, where Lutheran ministers led a prayer service for victims, family members and New Sweden residents.
A couple of dozen people attended the service where the ministers focused on healing. The ministers said there would be another gathering on Saturday at a church in Stockholm.
On Sunday, they invited people to come to the parking lot of the Gustaf Adolph Lutheran Church to "reclaim" the site.
For now, there are many questions. For example, detectives don't know how or when the arsenic arrived at the church, but Appleton said the percolator was last used about two weeks ago. The person who brewed the coffee was among those who was stricken.
Responding to reporters' questions, Appleton said investigators' initial thoughts are that the person who spiked the coffee came from within New Sweden community, where about 621 people live.
But police haven't ruled out any possibility.
That's the prospect that worries people most.
Sara Anderson, co-owner of the Northstar Variety store, said it is unsettling to think somebody in the community could be responsible. "In the back of your mind, you keep hoping it's not somebody from here," she said.
Like others, church member Pam Landeen felt that the arsenic poisonings had to be a tragic accident, not an intentional act.
"I watch CSI so I've been trying to figure it out for the last week," she said, referring to the TV show based on forensic investigations. But the reality was disturbing. "I just can't believe it."
At the church itself, the doors were locked and TV satellite trucks were parked outside Friday morning.
At the town offices, a sign announced that a planning board meeting had been canceled due to "events in the community."
"It's almost like it's a dream. It's something that's happening in New Sweden but you can't believe it," said Steve Boody, who was filling in as the elementary school bus driver for the regular driver, who was in the hospital from arsenic poisoning. "It's like you hope to wake up and see that it's not happening."
There was some good news: the poisonings appeared to be isolated, Appleton said. And there were plenty of arsenic antidotes on hand.
The state used a $200,000 federal bioterrorism grant to purchase antidotes for a wide variety of chemical agents.
At the time, Mills and other officials had misgivings about spending so much on antidotes that might never be needed. "We never foresaw a situation such as what happened in New Sweden, of a mass poisonings," she said.
The state had completed its stockpiles a couple of weeks before the arsenic poisonings in New Sweden, and the antidotes were at the Maine Medical Center in Portland awaiting shipment to hospitals across the state.
The antidotes were shipped to hospitals in Caribou and Bangor by Monday night. If the stocks had not been available, the state likely would have had to look beyond its borders for the antidotes, Mills said.