Leo Lessor hadn't been home more than a few minutes when police evacuated him from his Middlebury home Thursday evening. They had his neighbor's house surrounded.
"Well, I said he probably finally lost it," Lessor said.
Police say around noontime, George Demarais, 57, called 911 claiming he wanted to die via suicide by cop. Police say the man had a history of mental health issues and threatening behavior. He was estranged from his family and in financial trouble. Neighbors say he was unfriendly.
"Whether he knew them or not he just didn't like neighbors period," Lessor said. "I've waved to him when I'm mowing the lawn. He wouldn't wave back. I brought him mail. Never even a thank you."
When officers arrived on the scene they found a note taped on the man's car that read: "Come and get me. I hope you can shoot straight because I can."
Police say Demarais' will was taped to the front door, but he wouldn't answer. Eventually he came out carrying a rifle, allegedly ignored commands to drop the weapon and disappeared into the woods. Police say they intended to call mental health services, but that plan changed in an instant.
"Mr. Demarais opened fire on the officers from sort of a protected position on a higher part on the hill in the back," Middlebury Police Chief Tom Hanley said.
Police later learned Demarais had built a heavily fortified bunker stocked with shotguns, ammunition, food and water. Police say it was clear the former corrections officer intended to engage in a lengthy standoff. And they were losing daylight.
"Now we have someone out in the woods with a firearm who is apparently committed to destroying himself and whoever else got in the way, so we had to engage in some fashion," Hanley said.
Police say two officers armed with M16s fired back. The volley of bullets whizzed through the woods for 40 minutes. The chief says during lulls in the firefight, Demarais taunted officers as they pleaded with him to surrender.
"But he repulsed all efforts to give him any assistance. He was very committed to doing this," Hanley said. "He did engage the police in a firefight. He started it and he did not stop."
Demarais and police were 20 yards apart, yet it's unclear how many shot were fired or if the fatal shot was self-inflicted or from an officer's service weapon.
Vermont state police have since taken over the criminal investigation. Once that's complete, the case will be reviewed independently by the Addison County state's attorney and Vermont attorney general's office.
This marks the second fatal officer-involved shooting in Vermont this year.
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