Law enforcement officers search the undergrowth with a dog near the Yarmouth southbound exit iff Interstate 295 on Tuesday, April 18, 2023. Credit: Troy R. Bennett / BDN

Maine’s public safety chief called the slaying of four people in Bowdoin followed by the random Tuesday shooting on Interstate 295 in Yarmouth that drew a massive police response “an attack on the soul of our state.”

Police described events that unfolded 25 miles apart on Tuesday morning and the following investigation as unprecedented in Maine history. Joseph Eaton, 34, of Bowdoin was apprehended in Yarmouth after police said he shot at cars along the highway. He has been charged with killing his parents and two friends they were staying with in Bowdoin.

The shootings were “a shock to everybody” and a reminder that violent crimes many think of as happening in other places can happen in Maine, Public Safety Commissioner Michael Sauschuck said at the start of a Wednesday news conference in Augusta.

“The reality is that these senseless acts can and do happen anywhere, at any time,” he said. “So we certainly need to be conscious of that moving forward as a state and to have our communities be conscious of that.”

Maine Public Safety Commissioner Michael Sauschuck speaks at a press conference in Augusta on Wednesday, April 19, 2023, about a quadruple homicide in Bowdoin the day before. Credit: Troy R. Bennett / BDN

The major police response to what turned out to be one of the deadliest shooting crimes in recent Maine history began about 9:20 a.m. Tuesday morning when a caller reported finding a body at a home at 1459 Augusta Road in Bowdoin. Sagadahoc County sheriff’s deputies arrived to discover four dead, three in the home and one in a barn.

They were identified as Joseph Eaton’s parents, Cynthia R. Eaton, 63, and David Lee Eaton, 66, both of Ocala, Florida, and another couple, Robert C. Eger Jr., 72, and Patricia Deraps Eger, 62, who owned the home. Their deaths have been ruled homicides, and police said Joseph Eaton confessed to killing them, though they have not said when they died.

Cynthia Eaton picked her son up Friday from the Maine Correctional Center in Windham where he had finished serving a sentence on an assault charge and took him to the Egers’ home where they were staying, police said.

Sagadahoc Sheriff’s Department Sgt. Aaron Schofield hangs “no trespassing” signs and a steel cable across the driveway at a home on the Augusta Road in Bowdoin on Wednesday, April 19, 2023, where four people were found dead on Tuesday. A bouquet of flowers sat stuck into a dirt pile at the end of the driveway. Credit: Troy R. Bennett / BDN

While investigators were working the scene in Bowdoin, police departments from Yarmouth, Falmouth and Cumberland responded about 10:30 a.m. to Interstate 295 for reports of multiple vehicles and people being shot at in the area between Exits 17 and 15 in Yarmouth in the southbound lanes, Colonel William Ross of the state police said at the press conference.

State and local police from across the region converged on the scene. Around 10:44 a.m., police found a vehicle on the exit ramp of exit 15 of I-295 southbound, Ross said. Eaton was located in a wooded area near what police believe to be the vehicle he was driving and taken into custody. Images showed another vehicle with bullet holes in the windshield.

Law enforcement officers gather at the Yarmouth southbound exit off Interstate 295 on Tuesday, April 18, 2023. Credit: Troy R. Bennett / BDN

Three people shot there in one car — Sean Halsey, 51, and his two children, Justin Halsey, 29, and Paige Halsey, 25, all of Bowdoinham — were taken to Maine Medical Center in Portland. The men suffered non-life threatening injuries, but Paige Halsey was critically injured. On Wednesday afternoon, Sean Halsey said that the woman’s breathing tube had been removed. 

Eaton is expected to face charges in that case in Cumberland County, but the investigation is continuing. Ross said the events led to one of the most dynamic criminal investigations and crimes in progress in recent Maine history. Citing the ongoing probe, he did not answer some key questions about the shootings, including where Eaton, a convicted felon barred from possessing guns under state and federal law, got his firearm and what kind of gun he used.

The area between the two highway exits was a chaotic scene after the Yarmouth shooting on Tuesday as police searched frantically to rule out the notion of a second suspect.

A police officer stands on the corner of Portland Street and Main Street in Yarmouth, Maine, on Tuesday, April 18, 2023. State police say gunfire that erupted on a busy highway is linked to a second crime scene where several people were found dead in a home about 25 miles away in the town of Bowdoin, Maine. Police briefly ordered people in nearby neighborhoods to shelter in place, but authorities later announced there was no threat to the public. (Michael Leonard via AP) Credit: Michael Leonard via AP

Homes and businesses in that part of town were asked to lock down during that time, either by officers canvassing the area or by automated messages from local police. Once it was clear that Eaton was the only suspect, that was lifted, Yarmouth police Chief Daniel Gallant said.

The person who discovered the first body in Bowdoin was able to identify a “person of interest” and that information was passed on to detectives and police on the scene in Yarmouth, said Sagadahoc County Sheriff Joel Merry, whose deputies were first to arrive at the scene. That tip helped lead to Eaton’s quick apprehension, Merry said.

The sheriff called the work of multiple law enforcement agencies over multiple crime scenes “seamless.” He also said that Bowdoin is representative of small towns all over the state.

“There’s one country store in the town of Bowdoin. Everybody does know everybody else’s business but in a friendly way,” Merry said. “It is a wonderful community, and I’m heartsick over this tragedy that has occurred to the people and the residents of this community.”

BDN writers Michael Shepherd and Leela Stockley contributed to this report.