Questions arise about Bob Carlson's life, and death

Posted Wednesday, November 16, 2011 in News

Questions arise about Bob Carlson's life, and death

Robert Carlson in 2010, photo by Bridget Brown, Bangor Daily News

by Gina Hamilton

BANGOR — Most people who knew the Rev. Robert Carlson say that he was a loving, giving servant of God who gave himself to help the most needy in our society.

He served as pastor at the East Orrington Congregational Church, president and founder of the Penobscot Community Health Care, co-founder of the Hope House, and chaplain to several agencies including the Penobscot County Sheriff's Department, the Bangor and Brewer police departments, and Husson University.

U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree said, “I am stunned and deeply saddened to hear of the passing of Reverend Carlson. Bob was generous with his time and spirit and deeply committed to improving the lives of the less fortunate in his community. He was a man of boundless energy who cared deeply about those who were struggling. My thoughts and prayers are with his wife Elaine and his entire family in this very difficult time.”

Sen. Susan Collins also released a statement: "I am shocked and terribly saddened. My thoughts are with Bob's wife, Elaine, and their family during this tremendously difficult time."

Sen. Olympia Snowe said, "We were deeply saddened by the news of Rev. Bob Carlson's passing. The Greater Bangor region and indeed the state of Maine has lost a beloved friend and an extraordinary figure, who has been a passionate voice improving countless lives. His spirit of concern and compassion has literally touched every facet of the community, from his founding of Penobscot Community Health Care and Hope House, to his service as a pastor as well as a chaplain for a number of local institutions, to the messages of comfort and hope he has brought to so many families who undoubtedly share in a tremendous sense of loss today."

Carlson was found dead in the Penobscot River on Sunday morning, a victim of an apparent suicide, after conducting a wedding on Saturday night.  Deputies from the Waldo County Sheriff’s Department initially went to the bridge around 4 a.m. to check out a report of a jumper, Chief Deputy Jeff Trafton said.

What most people did not know was that Bob Carlson was, at the time of his death, under investigation by the State Police for a child-abuse allegation involving an 11-year-old boy, dating from the 1970s.  According to the Bangor Daily News, Carlson and the boy, who is now an adult, have had a relationship dating from that time until Carlson's death. 

On Tuesday, a second person came forward, alleging abuse by Carlson.

According to the Bangor Daily News, the original allegation came in the form of an anonymous letter, sent to Gov. Paul LePage's office, the Katahdin Area Council of the Boy Scouts, which was preparing to honor Carlson and his wife Elaine, and to members of Maine's clergy.  LePage's office turned over the letter to the State Police and requested an investigation.

A woman and her family in Bowdoin, and another family in Alton, were interviewed on Friday and Saturday, after the district attorney in Penobscot County requested an investigation.

At the time of his death, Carlson had not yet been interviewed. In spite of the suicide, state police spokesman Steve McCausland says that the investigation into the child-abuse allegations will continue.

For the sake of the Carlson family, and for the sake of the alleged victims, this week's tragic events should be considered a call, not for speaking no ill of the dead, but for an opening for truth, reconciliation, and ultimately, if possible, forgiveness.  Humans are complex creatures, and what is great evil can live side by side with the greatest good.  Both must be acknowledged in order to move forward.

Carlson, 68, was married to Elaine for 43 years. They had one son, three grandchildren and six great-grandchildren.

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