Matinicus residents were left reeling in late July by a shooting that appeared to come close to killing an island lobsterman. They struggled to understand how two respected fishermen in this island community-where people all know one another and often are related-let a dispute escalate to a lethal level of violence

On July 20, at the Matinicus ferry dock, Vance Bunker, 68, allegedly fired a .22 caliber pistol at 41-year-old Chris Young, as a marine patrol officer checked on Young’s boat and the reported slashing of trap lines.

A Penobscot Island Air plane was on Matinicus at the time and Young was flown to Central Maine Medical Center where he is reported to be in stable condition.

Islanders were reluctant to speak on the record, but acknowledged privately that they were distraught by the shooting between two men who knew each other, and who have deep family roots on the island. Young and his wife Kim have two children who also live on Matinicus.

“Both Vance Bunker and Chris Young are part of very, very important families in the community,” said Nat Hussey, an attorney who moved to Matinicus from the mainland with his wife Lisa Twombly four years ago. “I speak as a newcomer,” he said, but noted the effect of the shooting incident will be felt for a long time to come.

“The families really are the big weave in the fabric of the community. To say that it’s unraveling is probably not an overstatement,” Hussey said.

In 1993, Bunker was one of three Matinicus men honored as Carnegie heroes for the rescue of two men from a sinking vessel during a winter storm. He has competed in lobster boat races with Sari Ann, named for his wife.

Several years ago Young put a new engine in his 38-foot lobster boat, Kimberley Anne, joking at the time that he “needed to spend some money” by repowering with a Cummins diesel.

On the surface, it appears disputed fishing territory and as many as 200 cut trap lines led to the confrontation between Bunker and Young, which reportedly included an earlier physical confrontation. In past flare-ups between fishermen, lobster trap lines are sometimes knotted to send a message that the trap should be moved. Lobster traps are sometimes moved when fishermen believe they are encroaching on turf that is handed down in families from one generation to the next. Sometimes, lobstermen take the more drastic measure of cutting the line between buoy and trap.

Lt. Alan Talbot of the state Marine Patrol confirmed that Officer Wesley Dean was already on the island, investigating the report of cut trap lines at the time of the shooting. Talbot said “it’s a shame,” but assaults, vandalism and threats of bodily harm have, in his opinion, been common among Matinicus lobstermen.

Territorial disputes between lobstermen, and between fishing communities, are not uncommon along the coast.

“It’s a terrible shock,” said Suzanne Rankin of Matinicus, local historian and school board member who can trace her roots to the island’s first white settlers in the 1700s. She called the shooting “a family tragedy because we are all one family. We’re involved by virtue of living here, even if we’re not related to one another.”

Matinicus, with year-round population of less than 50 people, is a community that can unite to search for a lost fisherman, or build a playground, fight a fire, rescue fishermen from a sinking vessel. “You know your neighbor. They’re always ready to help you,’ she said.

Some 200 people live on the island in the summertime, many of them vacationers who have come to Matinicus for generations. Others come to fish seasonally. Once farmed, the island economy is based on lobstering.

When the post office and former store recently burned to the ground, islanders worked together to refurbish the parsonage as the new post office. Twombly at first operated a pre-school, but as the island children moved on, she opened a grocery store in her barn to serve her neighbors.

Matinicus has sometimes lived up to its rowdy reputation. Years ago, a resident law officer was reportedly run off the island. More recently, a lobsterman sued another in court over fishing rights to a certain area. But that is just one aspect of Matinicus, home to law-abiding year-round families and longtime seasonal residents. Matinicus has in its midst both millionaires and rusty cars that run up and down the island’s dirt roads without license plates. Mostly, it’s a quiet community, remote from the bustle of tourists and busy hotels and restaurants just 20 miles away on Monhegan Island, or 25 miles away in Camden.

“You want life to go on smoothly,” Rankin said, expressing confidence that island life will continue as before. She said she is grateful no one was killed. But there is a different kind of injury, she acknowledged. There is the pain of a community coming to terms with a violent act in what is typically a peaceful, friendly place. “We’re no different than any town anywhere,” she said.

One St. George fisherman said Chris Young had a favorable reputation among local lobstermen. “I wouldn’t be surprised if there is some kind of retaliation. I sure hope not,” he said. Bunker, who faces charges of elevated aggravated assault, was released on bail after his arrest, and was ordered to stay away from Matinicus.

State marine patrol officers are hoping to make sure there is no more violence.  Marine Resources Commissioner George LaPointe at first ordered a two-week shutdown of all lobstering within an area fished locally around Matinicus but a three-day closure was negotiated when Hussey and Camden lawyer Christopher MacLean, representing Matinicus lobstermen, challenged the order in Knox County Superior Court. The settlement was reached just before hearings on the case were scheduled to start.

LaPointe met with lobstermen on Matinicus on July 25, during the shutdown. He defended a strong reaction to the shooting: “This is a serious attempt to change the dynamic out there. Someone almost got killed.”