Sadie Stansall stands by her bedroom window in Yarmouth on Thursday, April 20, 2023. Stansall heard gunshots on Tuesday morning and saw police on the highway, just outside her window at exit 17 on I-295. Credit: Troy R. Bennett / BDN

It’s been four days since she heard gunshots outside her Yarmouth home, and Sadie Stansall is still not sure when she’ll drive on I-295 again. The 21-year-old had a near front-row seat to Tuesday’s shooting and the aftermath that unfolded near exit 15.

Joseph Eaton, who has been charged in the killing of his parents and another couple in a Bowdoin home, allegedly opened fire on cars on I-295 around 10:30 a.m. Tuesday morning, injuring three people who were driving on the southbound side of the highway. Eaton has been charged in those deaths, but charges from the Yarmouth incident are still pending.

While Eaton knew the victims in the Bowdoin, those shot while driving on I-295 seem to have been in the wrong place at the wrong time. It’s that randomness that has Stansall spooked about pulling onto the interstate anytime soon.

“I am definitely anxious,” she said. “They were just a random target [and] I drive through that spot all the time.”  

Later that same day she had to go to Bath. Instead of taking I-295 she took an alternate route on back roads.

Anxiety after a violent and random event like Tuesday’s shooting may be unexpected for Mainers, but it’s also a normal trauma reaction that locals may feel whether they are directly involved or not, experts say.

“It’s an absolutely normal reaction,” said Wendy St. Pierre, assistant professor of mental health and human services at University of Maine at Augusta. “The primary thing people are likely feel is an underlying worry in the back of your mind of ‘what could have been.’”

That is especially true in places like Maine, which have been spared the kinds of shootings that have taken place in other parts of the country.

“It was not the kind of thing normally in the consciousness of Mainers,” St. Pierre said. “Now we have this incident that reflects other things going on around the country, so it has us thinking ‘if this can happen here, what else can happen here?’”

Now that it has happened, Stansall is not sure when she will get back on I-295 but she said when she does it will be a changed experience.

“I am going to feel almost like I should be looking over my shoulder and checking my rearview mirror all the time,” she said. “Just thinking about it makes me kind of nervous.”

The shooting is also changing the way Kim Paradis looks at driving in Maine. Paradis lives in Portland and travels to Freeport for work several times a week, right up I-295. On Tuesday she figures she was just minutes behind the violence. She has no plans to abandon the interstate, but she will modify her behavior.

“I have to head back to Freeport tomorrow,” Paradis said. “I am already pretty aware of my surroundings when I drive but that awareness is definitely going to be up when I’m on the Interstate.”

Common feelings associated with anxiety can include difficulty concentrating, feeling restless, irritability and difficulty controlling feelings of worry and dread.

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Dread is what Stansall said she feels when thinking about driving anywhere now in general, and on I-295 in particular.

Events like Tuesday’s shootings churn up different emotions and confusion in a lot of people, and that is normal, according to St. Pierre.

“It forces us to look at our own mortality and the risks we take every day,” St. Pierre said. “We already know that getting into a car carries a certain amount of risk and now we are adding a level of risk that we really could not predict a week ago.”

It’s added one more driving concern for Paradis.

“It can be scary on the roads and there is already road rage out there,” Paradis said. “Now we have something to worry about that we know can now happen in Maine.”

Even for those who didn’t witness Tuesday’s events, those feelings of anxiety are normal regardless of age, St. Pierre said.

“It can present after reading about the situation or hearing about it from others or on the news,” she said. “This can then trigger our body’s nervous system leading to stress like we experienced it firsthand.”

For anyone feeling anxiety following this shooting, St. Pierre said there is no shame in asking for help in dealing with it, whether that is from a professional or a trusted loved one who may also be feeling the same emotions.

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“We have a tendency to think we are the only ones feeling things,” St. Pierre said. “But in reality there are so many people often feeling the same things.”

While talking is good, obsessing about the shootings is not, St. Pierre said.

“When something is causing anxiety we are torn between wanting to read or know more about it and wanting to separate from it,” she said. “If this is something that is causing you anxiety and talking about it or learning more makes it worse, that is the time to distance yourself.”

It’s also important to pay attention to the level of anxiety. When it gets to the point of impacting daily life or it becomes all you think about, it’s time to seek professional help.

For most people, the anxiety associated with recent events will fade in time and Stansall is reasonably confident time will take care of her anxiety.

“I think I will get back on [I-295] eventually,” Stansall said. “But it’s going to be weird, even if I’m not the one driving.”

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Julia Bayly

Julia Bayly is a reporter at the Bangor Daily News with a regular bi-weekly column. Julia has been a freelance travel writer/photographer since 2000.