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Even as we learn more about the horrific shootings that took place in Bowdoin and Yarmouth, there is still much we do not know. However, we do now know the victims.
They are Cynthia R. Eaton and David Lee Eaton, the parents of the alleged shooter, and their friends Patti Deraps Eger and Robert C. Eger Jr. — all killed at the Egers’ home in Bowdoin. And three members of a Bowdoinham family, Sean Halsey and his adult children Paige Halsey and Justin Halsey, were injured in the Yarmouth highway shooting.
Much of the attention, and needed conversation about ways to try to prevent tragedies like this one, will focus on alleged perpetrator Joseph Eaton, who reportedly confessed to police about the Bowdoin killings. How and why he allegedly carried out these horrendous acts, killing his parents and their two friends and shooting three members of a different family at random on the highway, are questions that require answers and action.
But before we launch into larger policy considerations and debates, we must take stock of what we have lost, of what these families and their friends have lost, and what they will continue to wrestle with moving forward.
Yes, we have lost any illusion that this type of violence can’t happen here in Maine. But more immediately, more painfully, families have lost their relatives. People have lost their friends. Communities have lost pillars who stood strong for others. Just by going about their day and driving down the road, a family has lost some certainty about what tomorrow holds.
One of the victims in Yarmouth, Paige Halsey, was critically injured. One Wednesday afternoon, her father encouragingly told a Portland TV station that she had her breathing tube removed and is breathing on her own again.
“Everyone is currently making progress toward healing and we are optimistic for full recovery,” Sean Halsey said in a statement.
Together with a hope for healing, we also mourn the lives lost in this senseless tragedy. As interviews with those close to the victims show in heartbreaking fashion, they will of course be dearly missed.
In a powerful story from BDN reporter Kathleen O’Brien, for example, we learned about the friendliness of the Egers. We learned about Patti’s penchant for scrapbooking and her involvement in the Lisbon Area Christian Outreach food pantry. We learned about Bob’s skill as a craftsman.
“Patti was the kind of person who always had a smile on her face and gave everyone a hug,” said Linda Walker of Bowdoin, who called herself Patti’s best friend of 20 years. “She opened her door to anyone and if you went to visit her, she wanted to feed you. She took care of us all and she was loved by everyone.”
That kindness and love should endure through this terrible loss. It must endure.
“Patti and Bob were the best people in the world,” Walker said. “They were very down to earth, honest, good, God-fearing people.”
From BDN reporter Judy Harrison’s detailed look into court documents past and present, we get a view of the Eatons as parents who were trying to help rehabilitate their son who already had a violent criminal history. A 2017 letter to the court in Wiscasset outlined their hope for Joseph Eaton to serve a previous probation at their home in Florida and work for his mother’s cleaning business, and cited their experience helping another son after he left the Marines and was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder.
“He moved in with us and we worked with him and successfully helped him get back on his feet and focused on his future,” the Eatons wrote about that other son in their 2017 letter. “Our efforts helped him become a positive contributor to society and he now has a bright future with a great career.”
These personal details about the victims add to the scope of this tragedy. The more we learn, the more we feel this deep loss.
And as the public learns more, there of course must be discussion and debate about what Maine can do to try to prevent tragedies like this one in the future. In these opinion pages, we are often quick to jump to the policy considerations following various news events. But with this tragedy, we must be careful not to jump over the very real personal anguish in the process.
The case and its implications for state policymakers will surely get a lot of attention, as it should be. For now, though, we must also endeavor to keep focus on the victims — on the lives lost and the lives forever changed.