Any information in the 911 transcripts that may reveal new details about Maine’s worst mass shooting in decades has been redacted.
Maine Public Safety Commissioner Michael Sauschuck speaks at a press conference in Augusta on April 19, 2023, about a quadruple homicide in Bowdoin the day before. Credit: Troy R. Bennett / BDN

Maine State Police on Friday released heavily redacted transcripts of 30 emergency calls placed to 911 operators on April 18, when a man allegedly shot at cars on Interstate 295 in Yarmouth after killing four people at a home in Bowdoin.

All information that may reveal new details about Maine’s worst mass shooting in decades has been redacted from the transcripts, which the Bangor Daily News obtained Friday afternoon under Maine’s Freedom of Access Act.

Information in the 30 transcripts that was not redacted includes basic details that already are widely known, such as the names of the towns where the shootings occurred, that there were significant traffic backups on the interstate and that at least one person was injured in the shootings on the highway. The majority of comments by the callers, aside from short “yes” or okay” or “thank you” responses, have been blacked out.

Police heavily redacted 911 transcripts related to the connected shootings that left four people dead in Bowdoin and three injured in Yarmouth.
This screenshot shows part of a heavily redacted transcript of a 911 call that was made to police from a Bowdoin home where 4 people were found shot to death on April 18, 2023. Maine State Police on Friday released 30 transcripts of 911 calls that were made in response to the shootings in Bowdoin and along Interstate 295 in Yarmouth, but no new information about the shootings was revealed in the redacted documents. Credit: Courtesy of the Maine State Police

Sigmund Schutz, a Portland lawyer with a specialty in First Amendment rights and public information, said that in 2013 Maine’s top court ruled that police had to show a “‘particularized possibility of harm’ to justify redactions, and that merely abstract, hypothetical or speculative harms would not suffice.” 

The extent to which the 911 transcripts related to the Bowdoin and Yarmouth shootings have been redacted, he said, “in my opinion is not within the letter or spirit of the law.”

Joseph Eaton, 34, has been charged with murder in the shooting deaths of four people, including his parents, at a home in Bowdoin. He also is expected to be charged in the shootings along I-295 in Yarmouth that injured three people.

The mass shooting has the highest number of victims injured or killed — seven all together — in Maine in at least 35 years and likely longer than that. It occurred during a week when nearly more than 100 people were killed or injured nationwide in an eight-day span, according to the Gun Violence Archive.

In releasing the redacted transcripts, Maine State Police attorney Paul Cavanaugh cited the Emergency Services Communication Act, the Freedom of Access Act and the Intelligence and Investigative Record Information Act in withholding information and also cited “the most recent case law from the Maine courts.” Cavanaugh did not respond to messages seeking further clarification Friday afternoon.

News organizations typically request information collected through 911 calls during major public safety events to analyze the law enforcement response.

Some information about the Bowdoin shootings — in which Eaton allegedly killed his parents, two of their friends and a dog — already has been publicly released in a police affidavit, so it is not clear why information in the transcripts has been withheld. The address of the killings, which already has been released by the state police, was redacted from the transcript of that call.

No one was killed as they traveled along the interstate in Yarmouth, but the randomness of the targeted violence rattled Mainers who are unaccustomed to such mayhem.

Maine has a high rate of gun ownership compared with other states in the Northeast, but a fairly low rate of gun violence. There have been other killing sprees with multiple victims in the state, but the random shootings at passersby on the highway stands out compared with other acts of violence in Maine.

A news reporter in coastal Maine for more than 20 years, Bill Trotter writes about how the Atlantic Ocean and the state's iconic coastline help to shape the lives of coastal Maine residents and visitors....