Joseph M. Eaton, 34, has been charged with 15 different crimes, including for assaulting a firefighter, police officer and young child.
A hearse leaves the scene of a shooting, Tuesday in Bowdoin. Credit: Robert F. Bukaty / AP
Joseph Eaton in an undated photo posted to Facebook on April 14.

The man charged with shooting to death four people in Bowdoin on Tuesday was convicted in Florida for illegally possessing a gun in 2018 and was released from a Maine prison only Friday.

Joseph M. Eaton, 34, of Bowdoin, has a long and violent criminal history in Maine and also has convictions in Florida for assaulting a firefighter and a police officer, as well as for illegal drug use.

He left the Maine Correctional Center in Windham last week at the end of his sentence for violating his probation for domestic assault in 2015, according to Anna Black, a Maine Department of Corrections spokesperson.

Four people were found dead at an Augusta Road residence in Bowdoin at around 10:30 a.m. Tuesday. Police have said the deaths are related to the Yarmouth shooting that left three people injured, including one person in critical condition.

Police had not released the names of any of the victims as of Wednesday morning, but a press conference has been set for 3 p.m. Wednesday at the Department of Public Safety building in Augusta. Moss said identifications of those slain would not be released until autopsies are completed, which could take until Thursday to complete.

Eaton is being held without bail and will make a court appearance later this week, Moss said.

His criminal record dates back to 2013. He has been charged with 15 different crimes before Tuesday’s shootings, according to a state police background check document. Those crimes include felonies that bar individuals from possessing firearms under state and federal law.

Eaton’s most recent conviction was for an assault in August 2021 on fellow inmate Dustan James Bentley, 34, who is serving a 40-year sentence for the murder of his roommate in 2019. The assault was a Class C felony punishable by up to five years in prison. He was sentenced to eight months for that crime.

He also has convictions in three Maine counties for assault on a child under the age of six, domestic violence assault and operating under the influence of intoxicants.

In 2015, he was charged in Lincoln County with assaulting family members, according to court documents. He was convicted of Class C and D crimes. Eaton was sentenced the following year to two years in prison for those crimes and for violating his probation on similar charges out of Androscoggin County. 

When he was released in 2017, Eaton went to live with his parents, David and Cindy Eaton, according to court documents. His probation in Maine was transferred to Florida.

His involvement with police there began on Jan. 21, 2018, when an aunt Eaton was visiting him in Auburndale, Florida, called the Nassau County Sheriff’s Office to report that he was out of control and breaking things, court documents said. The caller told dispatchers that Eaton had threatened to take his own life with a rifle she had in her car. The woman told police she’d gotten the weapon away from him and secured it.

When three deputies arrived, Eaton was on a screened-in porch swinging a wooden baseball bat, the report filed by the sheriff’s office said. When Eaton refused to drop the bat, a deputy attempted to subdue him with a stun gun. It took three deputies to take down Eaton, who admitted to using methamphetamine, heroin and marijuana earlier.

Eaton, who was on probation in Maine when he was arrested in Florida, was charged in Wiscasset with violating its conditions that included not using drugs and not possessing guns. When he completed his three-year sentence in Florida, he was returned to Maine and his probation was revoked in March 2021. It was while serving the probation revocation sentence that Eaton assaulted a fellow prisoner.

Eaton posted a video on Monday in which he emotionally spoke about forgiveness and Christianity. He said that he had been molested but did not say when.

“I’ve been dealing with trauma for a long time on things I don’t talk about,” he said. “You know being molested, it destroys somebody.”

He asked “some people” to forgive him but did not say what for.

“It’s not the way things are supposed to be done. It’s not the way we were made,” he said. “[People] just need to try to forgive me for what I did.”

Eaton has several tattoos, according to his criminal history in Maine. They include the words “faith” and “trust” and images of a cross and a bird.