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Wardens suspend formal search for missing priest

CARIBOU, Maine — After spending more than 300 man hours across seven days searching for Rev. Clement Thibodeau, who was last seen in Caribou on July 15, the Maine Warden Service has suspended formal search operations, but not entirely discontinued the investigation.

The search effort took place in the Lee area, with the only lead being a ping from Thibodeau’s cell phone.

“That area is an intersection for four different game wardens,” said Lt. Dan Scott of the warden service. “Those wardens are still searching.”

The warden service also has contacted campers and ATV club members in the area regarding Thibodeau and his vehicle, and have distributed fliers with information letting residents know what to look for and who to call should they should spot him.

Scott said Thibodeau’s vehicle, a gray 2013 Chevrolet Equinox with the license plate 683AA, is the focal point of their search. In addition to being easier to spot, wardens believe the vehicle could provide clues to the reverend’s whereabouts.

Another reason for suspending the search, according to Scott, is the low strength of the cell signal that initially was detected, along with the possibility that phone could have pinged while Thibodeau was driving, or that it may have been dropped before the battery died.

Both Scott and Caribou Police Chief Michael Gahagan said on Tuesday that a Silver Alert, which notifies media outlets throughout the state of missing seniors believed to have memory or cognitive issues, was issued early last month and remains active.

“The alert notifies all law enforcement to be on the lookout,” Gahagan said, adding that despite all the “prayers that have been sent out,” there are no new leads in the search.

Thibodeau has ties to eastern, central and southern Maine. He served as a priest at St. Mary Catholic Church in Bangor in the late 1980s, becoming pastor of the church in 1993. Over the years, Thibodeau also served as pastor at St. Mary’s in Eagle Lake, Notre Dame in Waterville, and St. Joseph’s in Gardiner. He attended Caribou High School, St. Francis College in Biddeford and the Grand Seminary at the University of Montreal.

He spent 17 years as a teacher at St. Ignatius High School in Sanford and taught religious studies at Nason College in Springvale. In 2001, he retired to the farm in Connor, near Caribou, where he grew up.

Maine State Police have issued a Silver Alert for Clement Thibodeau, 85, of Caribou, who was last seen in Caribou on July 15. Thibodeau is believed to be driving a 2013 Chevrolet Equinox, as pictured here. Anyone who has seen Thibodeau or the vehicle with license plate 638A is urged to contact local police or the Caribou Police Department directly at 493-3301. (Courtesy/Caribou PD)

Thibodeau’s friends and family are baffled by his recent disappearance, and spoke of his exceptional impact on the lives of so many Mainers.

Karl Roy of Waterville created a Facebook page last weekend titled, “Find Father Clement Thibodeau,” which received over a 100 likes within hours.

Roy says he first met Clement in Waterville “back in ‘83,” and had nothing but praise for the priest.

“I was in my teens back then, and thought he was a terrific person,” Roy said. “He appealed to every generation, from teens to parents and grandparents.”

Roy said he has “no idea” what would have caused him to leave his Caribou apartment for central Maine at roughly 8 p.m. on July 15.

“There’s a possibility that dementia or diabetes could have led to the disappearance,” Roy said, adding that a medical issue would be the ideal cause when considering the potential worst-case scenario of foul play.

Thibodeau’s niece, Lynn Jones, said Thibodeau was at a 4th of July event at her house and that her husband and 13-year-old daughter “recalled [Thibodeau] talking about going away to Bangor.” Jones added that “nobody else recalls him saying that.”

She said Thibodeau’s disappearance is “a mystery to everybody,” especially considering the decision to depart that late on a Saturday evening.

“He’s usually good about telling me where he’s going,” Jones said. “I set up his calendar for him, so we know when he has doctors’ appointments or Mass.”

The reverend’s niece says that, while Thibodeau “was never diagnosed with dementia, he has started showing signs of forgetfulness,” such as “thinking certain days were Sunday when they weren’t.”

Everyone is “absolutely floored as to where he went,” says Jones, and they have “no idea why he would have gone [to the Lee area].”

Since birth, Thibodeau has shown exceptional resilience and Jones says her uncle “came into this world with the hand of God on his shoulder.”

Clement, according to Jones, was born two months premature in February 1932 in an aging Connor Township farmhouse.

“When my grandmother was seven months pregnant, she went to lay down and he just came out at two and a quarter pounds,” Jones said, adding that Thibodeau was given a cigar box for a bed, which his parents put on a bread warmer to prevent him from freezing during his first cold winter months on earth.

“He’s been really special to me and my family,” Jones said. “When my husband was in the military, he’d visit us wherever we were: off the coast of Portugal, Wyoming, Colorado, and Las Vegas.”

“He’d do anything for anybody,” Jones continued. “I knew what kind of man he was, but with the stories I’m hearing from strangers about the things he did for them, it’s amazing what one person can do.”

Police urge anyone who has seen Thibodeau or his vehicle to contact police in the area or call Caribou PD directly at 493-3301.

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