With a population of only 31,121, Washington County is essentially rural and small town. It’s 90 percent white, five percent Native American, and has a fourth of its residents over age 65.
At first glance, then, it’s not the kind of place you would expect to be suffering a homicide in each of the past six months.
The entire state reported only 22 in 2021 – two of them in Washington County, starting the six-month count. Quite simply, the county can currently be seen as the murder capital of the state.
Back in November, the victim in Machias was a 17-year-old male from New York. We could shake our heads and assume drugs had something to do with the case.
The rest, however, have been unmistakably local.
Several were domestic violence. One of those, the death of a valued employee, resulted in a family decision not to reopen a popular lobster pound in downtown Eastport, so we see these events having public consequences.
The latest instance had a 43-year-old Passamaquoddy woman as the victim and two of her neighbors arrested on homicide charges. Investigators have been unusually tight-lipped, leading to widespread speculation. Happening within a community of about 600, this takes a hard toll, ripping through at least three extended families.
The news, coming on the heels of a heavier than usual number of funerals in the tribe, adds to the grieving.
We can ask what is prompting this wave of violence and death.
Poverty is no doubt a factor. Individual and household incomes are only two-thirds of the national average, but probably skewer sharply down on one side or up the other, creating a gulch in real practice. The Covid-related closures of the international border to and from Canada have taken a toll on businesses, employment, and families, too.
The despair leads to drug abuse, as is related in everyday conversations around here.
As much as this region can be a paradise, it’s not problem-free. Not by any means.