Man Killed Parents, 2 Others Before Maine Highway Shooting, Police Say

Joseph Eaton, 34, of Bowdoin, is charged with four counts of murder

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Days after being released from a Maine jail, a man gunned down his parents and two family friends he was staying with on Tuesday, then opened fire on cars on a highway nearby, sending three family members to the hospital, officials said Wednesday.

One of the wounded people remained in critical condition Wednesday afternoon, according to the update from state and local police on the rampage in Bowdoin and Yarmouth, in which authorities identified all seven victims. Earlier Wednesday, police revealed that Joseph Eaton, 34, had a criminal history that should have prevented him from legally possessing a gun, according to state records.

"As horrible as this situation is, as tragic as this is, it seems to be an isolated incident and not part of a bigger problem," Maine State Police Col. Bill Ross said.

He said the four people Joseph Eaton shot and killed in Bowdoin were his parents, 66-year-old David Eaton and 62-year-old Cynthia Eaton, as well as their friends and the owners of the home, 72-year-old Robert Eger and his wife, 62-year-old Patricia Eger.

David Eaton was found outside in the barn, and the other three were found inside the home. Autopsies determined that all four died of gunshot wounds and their deaths have been ruled homicides, according to police.

Police believe the scenes in the towns of Bowdoin and Yarmouth are connected.

The three people who were shot on I-295 in Yarmouth were 51-year-old Sean Halsey and his children, 29-year-old Justin Halsey and 25-year-old Paige Halsey of Bowdoinham, police said. Paige remained hospitalized in critical condition, while Sean and Justin were expected to survive.

After he was arrested in the woods near I-295, police said, Joseph Eaton confessed to killing his parents and their friends in Bowdoin and said he believed the four vehicles he shot on the highway were police vehicles that were following him.

Eaton had just been released from the Windham Correctional Facility on Friday after serving a sentence for aggravated assault. Upon his release, his mother met him at the prison and brought him to Bowdoin to stay with the Egers.

The shootings in Maine began in the small town of Bowdoin. Then a chaotic scene developed in which shots were fired at vehicles on an interstate highway over 20 miles away in the community of Yarmouth, police said. Police have asked anyone with video that shows I-295 between exits 20 and 15 around the time of the Yarmouth incident to contact Maine State Police at 207-624-7076.

“This is an active investigation with a lot of moving parts,” Shannon Moss, state police spokesperson, said Wednesday.

Joseph Eaton was charged with four counts of murder but was not immediately charged in the highway shootings, she said. He was jailed while awaiting a court appearance. It was unclear if he had an attorney to speak on his behalf, a jail official said Wednesday.

Ian Halsey, of Bowdoinham, said that two cousins were shot and that his uncle suffered shrapnel injuries in a single car. None of the family knew the shooter, he said.

“They were just passersby in the wrong place at the wrong time,” he said of his family. “It’s horrible what happened.”

Eaton was charged over the past decade with more than a half-dozen crimes and served an eight-month sentence last year for assault, according to state records. Past convictions included aggravated assault, a felony that would prevent him from legally having a firearm.

The origins and ownership of the firearms used in Tuesday’s shootings were unclear. State police declined to comment on the weapon that was used.

The seven people shot Tuesday were the latest victims of mass shootings in the U.S., whose targets included a Christian elementary school in Nashville, Tennessee; a bank in Louisville, Kentucky, and a Sweet Sixteen party in a small city in Alabama.

NBC/The Associated Press
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