Rural Maine town shaken by violence remembers slain friends
Apr 21, 2023, 3:39 PM | Updated: 10:02 pm
BOWDOIN, Maine (AP) — Tireless. Helpful. Deeply religious.
Those were some of the ways Patti Eger’s friends remembered her Thursday in the small Maine town of Lisbon Falls, joining hands in prayer on a lawn outside a white church to say goodbye to a woman who stood alongside them to do charity work and attend services.
Patti Eger was one of four people killed in a violent rampage that shook the calm Maine community.
“I couldn’t believe it at first,” said Arlene Couture, a fellow member of the group. “We’re going to miss her terribly.
The shootings of seven people brought the national spate of mass gunfire home to a rural community where violent crime is rare. In tiny Bowdoin, Maine, a town of rolling hills, sturdy farmhouses and only one store, the property where the four were killed has drawn friends, family members and neighbors to grieve. Police have charged Joseph Eaton, 34, with four counts of murder, and have said there could be more charges coming.
Killed were Eaton’s parents, Cynthia Eaton, 62, and David Eaton, 66, along with homeowners Robert Eger, 72, and Patti Eger, 62. Police said Eaton later began firing on several cars along Interstate 295 in Yarmouth. Bullets struck a family in one of the vehicles, wounding Sean Halsey, 51; Justin Halsey, 29; and Paige Halsey, 25. Paige Halsey was critically wounded, police said.
Police have yet to discuss what might have been a motive behind the shootings on the rural property and along the busy interstate highway about 12 miles (19 kilometers) from Maine’s largest city, Portland. Police also have not discussed what gun or guns were used, or how Eaton obtained them. Eaton was prohibited from having guns because of his criminal past.
Eaton has been jailed since his arrest Tuesday near the chaotic highway, where traffic backed up as heavily armed law enforcement searched the area.
Eaton’s parents were staying with their longtime friends after Cynthia Eaton picked him up from a Maine prison on April 14. The families’ friendship endured even after the Eatons move away, eventually settling in Florida.
Friends of the Egers described them as a fixture in the community and a family that valued faith and charity.
Patti Eger was a scrapbooker who appreciated for her commitment to Lisbon Area Christian Outreach, a Lisbon Falls religious group. She was known for taking time with residents who sought service, and for greeting everyone she knew with a hug, even in the the grocery store, said Couture.
“The most I’m going to miss is she was always willing to give of herself. To everybody,” said Barbara Feely, another volunteer at the outreach group.
Relatives of Cynthia and David Eaton said the fun-loving couple was most happy riding their Harley-Davidson motorcycle, often joining other relatives at biking events from Florida up to the Dakotas. Cynthia Eaton’s Facebook page has posts on food, sunsets and her conservative political beliefs.
Paul Batten Jr., Cynthia Eaton’s first cousin, said they camped together as children and later rode motorcycles. She could disarm a stranger with her smile and, in her words, she was a pool shark, he said.
Batten also recalled how the couple moved around to be close to Joseph Eaton during his prison stints. “She would do anything for Joey. He was her baby. She would do anything for him,” he said.
Betty Fagan, Eaton’s grandmother and the mother of Cynthia Eaton, said Joseph Eaton “was a good kid when he was young but we don’t know what is going on with him now.”
“It was terrible. It was his mom and his dad,” Fagan said from her home in Ocala, Florida.
Fagan said Eaton’s parents had been planning to move back to Kansas. They picked Joseph Eaton up from prison and brought him to a beach where, she said, he spent the weekend alone.
“After that, we don’t know what happened. We don’t know whether there was an argument or what,” Fagan said.
Eaton had a criminal history in Maine, Kansas and Florida, all states where he’d lived. Charges included domestic violence assault, violating a protection order, aggravated assault, burglary, stalking, and drunken driving, among others.
Deputies in northeastern Florida were called to a Nassau County home in January 2018 on a report of an armed man having a mental breakdown, according to an incident report. Eaton’s aunt had fled after he tore the home apart, breaking things and threatening to kill himself, she told police.
After serving time on the aggravated assault, he was returned to Maine to serve a two-year sentence for violating probation, state officials said.
Rob Capehart, Eaton’s cousin who lives in North Carolina and corresponded with him while was in jail, said he was still trying to understand how a man who posted on Facebook Friday about being excited to get out of jail and posted a photo of eating at dinner could go on a killing rampage.
“If we knew there was a problem, we might have been able to prevent it,” said Capehart.
On Friday, a man left a stuffed animal at a makeshift memorial outside the Bowdoin home of Robert and Patti Eger as a cleaning crew in hazmat suits brought trash bags out of the house.
At the edge of the driveway, the growing memorial included flowers and Patti Eger’s favorite candy, Twizzlers.
Associated Press video journalist Rodrique Ngowi in Bowdoin and writer David Sharp in Portland contributed to this report from Maine. Michael Casey contributed to this report from Boston.