BOWDOIN, Maine — On Friday, Cynthia Eaton picked up her son Joseph at a Maine jail after he had completed his latest prison sentence in a life filled with convictions for violent crimes.
Four days later, she was found dead in a home in this rural town, one of seven victims of a shooting spree that Maine State Police said was perpetrated by her son Tuesday morning,.
Joseph Eaton, 34, stands accused of murdering his parents, Cynthia, 62, and David, 66, and two family friends, Robert Eger, 72, and Patricia Eger, 62, who were hosting the Eatons at their home in Bowdoin, State Police Colonel Bill Ross said Wednesday.
After the murders, Ross said, Eaton allegedly shot three more people while driving on a highway 25 miles away. Eaton appears to have had no relation to those three victims, who survived.
Ross said Eaton had confessed to the four killings and the highway shootings. Eaton opened fire on Interstate-295, Ross said, because “he believed he was being followed by police officers.”
Ross identified the three people shot on the highway in Yarmouth as Sean Halsey, of Bowdoinham, and his adult children, Justin and Paige. Paige Halsey, Ross said, was in critical condition, while the two men suffered injuries that were not life threatening.
Over the past 15 years — practically Joseph Eaton’s entire adult life — he has been repeatedly jailed for serious crimes, released after relatively short sentences, and then jailed again following new convictions, according to court records and press reports.
Along the way, Eaton suffered what police and relatives described as multiple “breakdowns” and was committed to a hospital for psychiatric treatment in February 2018 under the provisions of a Florida law for people who have “lost the power of self-control” and “are likely to inflict harm to themselves or others,” according to court records.
The turnstile of Eaton’s repeated convictions, imprisonments, and releases began with a 2008 burglary in Kansas, according to Florida court records. He was sentenced in 2009 and released in 2010, according to a report published by WMTW Channel 8 in Portland.
Between 2013 and 2017, he was charged with numerous crimes in Maine, including domestic violence assault, aggravated assault, violating a restraining order, endangering the welfare of a child, and driving under the influence, according to records provided to the Globe by the Maine State Police.
Some of the charges, including the alleged violation of the restraining order, were dismissed as part of plea deals. He was convicted of or pleaded guilty to other crimes, including “Aggravated Assault (Strangulation),” according to court records.
The jail sentences he received tended to be short. After pleading guilty to aggravated assault, he was sentenced to 21 days in jail and three years of probation.
For operating under the influence, he was sentenced to 48 hours of incarceration.
In 2016, after pleading guilty to domestic violence assault, he received a six-month jail sentence.
By early 2018, he had moved to Florida to live with his parents while on probation. He would soon be charged with felonies in his new state.
On Jan. 21, 2018, his aunt, Kimberly Castejon, called the police from Eaton’s parents’ home in Auburndale, Fla., because Eaton was “armed with a gun and reportedly having a mental breakdown,” according to a police report. When three sheriff’s deputies arrived, they found Eaton “swinging [a baseball] bat at household items.”
During a struggle, the officers fired a taser at Eaton and bound his wrists with zip ties, according to the report. Eaton’s aunt told police that Eaton earlier had taken a rifle from her vehicle.
The aunt “reported that she believed Joseph was going to harm himself or others with the firearm due to him stating that he was going to kill himself,” the report said.
After his arrest, Eaton told the officers that he had taken methamphetamine, heroin, and marijuana, according to the report.
Later in 2018, he pleaded guilty to aggravated assault on a law enforcement officer and possession of a concealed weapon by a convicted felon, according to court records. He was sentenced to three years in prison, according to the records.
Three years later, in March 2021, he was jailed again in Maine due to a probation violation.
Then last Friday, his mother picked him up at the Windham Correctional Facility. He soon posted on Facebook: “It’s finally over. There are so many people I can’t wait to see.”
By Monday, though, Eaton was in a darker mood. In a video posted to Facebook, he said, “A lot of people look at you and think, ‘Oh, well there’s just . . . another guy that can’t get his stuff right.’ ”
Through tears, he also alluded to past traumas.
The next morning, his parents and the Egers were dead. Ross, the State Police colonel, said a friend of Eaton’s parents called 911 around 9:20 a.m. Tuesday from the Egers’ home on Augusta Road after finding a dead body.
Police found David Eaton’s body in a barn on the Egers’ property. Cynthia Eaton and the Egers were found in the Egers’ house.
Around the same time, police said, reports of the highway shootings came in.
The police soon found Eaton in the woods in Yarmouth, “not far from the vehicle believed to be his,” Ross said.
In an interview, Cynthia Eaton’s parents, Betty and Ken Fagan, said their daughter and David Eaton had recently moved to Wichita, Kan., to live near their other son, John. On Facebook, after his release from jail, Joseph Eaton had said he had planned to move back to Kansas, as well.
The Fagans described their daughter and son-in-law as Harley-Davidson enthusiasts. They declined to speak in detail about Joseph Eaton.
A neighbor described Robert and Patricia Eger as friendly, helpful, and “very nice people.” The people of Bowdoin, a town of just over 3,000, were in shock, he said.
“It will be a hard loss,” he added.
Ross said that investigators were still trying to piece together a fuller picture of the crime. Eaton is scheduled to appear in court on Thursday morning.
“Right now we’re in the how phase, how this happened,” he said. “And I think the why part of this, why did all of this happen, will come at a later period.”
In his video posted Monday, before the shooting spree, Eaton said, “I just wish someone would forgive me.”
Tonya Alanez of the Globe staff contributed to this report.