Joseph Eaton enters West Bath District Court for his arraignment on April 20. Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer

He shot his mother first. 

Joseph Eaton rummaged through her bag for the Ruger LCR .38-caliber pistol Cynthia Eaton carried, found her sitting on a couch, and fired.

Eaton says he felt like he was watching from outside his body as he turned to Patti Eger, a woman he describes as more family than friend, and pulled the trigger again.

He grabbed one of the Egers’ guns and shot Bob as he came through the front door.

Finally, he walked outside and aimed at his father David.  

“I don’t want to kill my dad,” he remembers thinking.  


Over a monthlong period, the Press Herald spent more than 10 hours interviewing Eaton from his cell at Two Bridges Regional Jail in Wiscasset, one 15-minute call at a time. His decision to talk with a reporter while awaiting court dates is extremely unusual.

Eaton, 34, said he had several reasons for speaking with the newspaper: dispelling the notion that he hated his parents, calling out what he considers systemic societal problems that fail troubled and dangerous people like him, and ultimately taking responsibility for killing four people.

Cynthia and David Eaton visit Badlands National Park in South Dakota in August 2018. Photo from Cynthia Eaton’s Facebook

For weeks, Eaton detailed his long history of violence, drug use, and mental health struggles – his extensive criminal record, which dates to his teen years, includes convictions for threatening, battery, burglary, and violating protection orders. The one subject he refused to discuss was what happened in Bowdoin on Monday, April 17.

When asked about the shootings, he returned over and over to the same two points: He had not been angry with his parents, and he did not understand why they were dead. 

But eventually, Eaton changed course – he confessed to a reporter and recounted the last minutes of his parents’ lives and the highway shootings the next day as he tried to flee Maine.

“Nothing felt real,” he said. He said his legal defense no longer matters to him.


After he was arrested in April, police said Eaton confessed to them, but they provided no details.

The Press Herald also contacted Eaton’s brother, John, and nearly a dozen other friends, family members, and former romantic partners, many of whom declined to speak on the record. The newspaper also reviewed hundreds of pages of court documents from Eaton’s cases.

Patti and Robert Eger.  Photo courtesy of Linda Walker

Taken together, these interviews and documents offer new revelations about the man responsible for one of the most shocking crimes in Maine’s history and provide a deeper understanding of what led to such a senseless, violent rampage.   

Yet even as Eaton described the personal and systemic failures he believes contributed to his troubled and violent life, he said nothing could explain why he killed four people who loved him and were ready to give him another chance. “These people were my family. This was all my family,” he said. “Sometimes there are no answers.” 


On Friday, April 14, Joseph Eaton walked out of prison for the first time in five years and hugged his mother in a tearful embrace.


After collecting their son from the Maine Correctional Center in Windham and taking him to breakfast, David and Cynthia Eaton brought him to Freeport to celebrate his release with a new wardrobe.

The gesture, like the decision to drive from Kansas to pick him up, touched but did not surprise Eaton, who often grew emotional while discussing his parents with the Press Herald. 

“They were the epitome, the absolute epitome of unconditional love,” he said. “They stuck by me through everything.” 

David and Cynthia had always been “the life of the party,” quick to develop deep and lasting friendships on their “nomadic” journeys around the country, John Eaton remembers. In Wichita, Kansas, where the family settled after living in Brunswick and Missouri, they were part of “the posse,” a tight-knit crew who rode motorcycles and took turns hosting monthly potlucks.

Stern but fair, the brothers said David was the type of father who came home from work ready to step into the role of Little League coach or Scout leader. Both said he was their best friend.  

Cynthia was a strong-willed matriarch in a house full of men. But she was also Joseph Eaton’s most trusted confidant when he was struggling. And he struggled often.  


From the time he was a young child, Eaton was always in trouble – for fighting, for disrupting class, for causing scenes on family vacations. 

“He had a temper,” remembered Eaton’s grandmother Betty Fagan. “A bad temper.”  

Especially with his brother John, whom Joseph Eaton describes as a bully who terrorized him throughout their childhood.  

John Eaton said his younger brother Joseph, who is accused of killing their parents, Cynthia and David, and family friends Robert and Patti Eger, was always a troubled kid. The two had been estranged for years before Joseph Eaton’s release from prison in April. Nick Wagner

John Eaton, older by one year, remembers Joseph as the malignant presence – a manipulator interested only in undivided attention and ruining other people’s good times.

“He never did anything out of the goodness of his heart,” John said. “I don’t think there was a goodness in his heart.” 

By the time the boys reached high school, they had grown too big, and their fights too violent, for Cynthia to intervene. Joseph, now a football player at Maize High School, ran with a rowdy group of teens.  


Getting drunk and looking for people to fight was par for the course. “What is there to do in small-town Kansas?” said Brook Miller, who grew up with Eaton. “We watch the wheat grow, and we drink beer. That’s just how it is.” 

They spent evenings toilet papering houses, playing ding-dong ditch, and racing cars, Miller said. But Eaton was known as the kid who took things too far. Where others would fight before patting each other on the back and sharing a beer, Eaton was emotionally unstable.  

“When he would show up at the beginning of the night, he would be happy-go-lucky, nice, and smiling,” Miller said. “And then one thing can trigger him, and he is turning red in the face and getting mad. It would just come out of nowhere.” 

Soon, he would graduate to more serious crimes, including burglary, drunken driving, and aggravated assault. He lost touch with most of his friends from school and fell out with his brother. He moved to Maine and married twice, but the relationships fell apart after he assaulted both women.  

Finally, in 2018, he charged at three Florida police officers with a baseball bat and earned five years in prison – three in Florida and two in Maine for violating the terms of his previous release.  

Until he walked out of prison that Friday, his parents were Eaton’s only consistent link to the outside world. 



After taking their son shopping on Friday, Eaton’s parents booked him a hotel room in Old Orchard Beach for the weekend and gave him a pocketful of cash. For the better part of two days, he mostly kept to himself. 

The decompression time was necessary, he said, after prison taught him to distrust other people.  

“When you go in there and you leave, you are not going to be the same person,” he said. “I’ve seen all these guys in prison just lose their minds.”  

Joseph Eaton at Old Orchard Beach on Friday, the day he was released from prison. He spent a couple of days in a hotel to decompress. Photo from Joseph Eaton’s Facebook account

The Press Herald filed a public records request for information about Eaton’s latest stint at the Maine State Prison, but the Department of Corrections denied it. Those records are typically private under state law.

Eaton himself admitted that he was far from a model prisoner. In Florida, he was constantly in trouble for fighting and for selling food, homemade alcohol, and drug paraphernalia. Shortly after his transfer to Maine in 2021, Eaton said, he assaulted an inmate who lied about being in the military. Eight more months were tacked on to his sentence.


While what Eaton told the Press Herald about his prison disciplinary record is consistent with his decadeslong criminal history, he said it was also partly the result of survival lessons he learned in a perverse corrections system, especially in Florida. 

In an environment where decency was akin to weakness, Eaton said he leaned into his antisocial tendencies.  

“I found that by being stern or being violent, I got rewarded,” he said. “Confinement is the safest place.” 

Eaton estimated he was in solitary confinement for two of the last five years. During those periods, he was allowed outside of his cell for about two hours each day. Otherwise, he was shut off from personal contact. 

Though the Maine Department of Corrections doesn’t use the term “solitary confinement,” it does allow prisoners to be held in isolation, or “disciplinary segregation,” for up to 22 hours each day if the prison deems them a safety threat to themselves, others or the “safe and secure operations of the facility.”

Commissioner Randall Liberty has opposed legislative efforts to ban the practice, arguing that Maine is a national leader in reducing isolation time. But Jan Collins, assistant director of the Maine Prisoner Advocacy Coalition, said any use of solitary confinement, which has drawn criticism from the United Nations and mental health experts, is harmful. 


“Whether you call it segregation, whether you call it an administrative control unit, whether you call it room confinement – it doesn’t matter what the name is, keeping people in that kind of isolation is not good for them,” she said. “It’s not good for our communities.” 

Prisoners with mental illness or strange social behaviors are more likely to end up in isolation, Collins said. But cutting them off from human interactions can exacerbate those issues, making them less capable of transitioning back to the general prison population and the outside world.  

Eaton said he had always found it difficult to fully connect with most people – his high school friend Miller remembered Eaton getting drunk and tearfully saying things like, “nobody likes me” – but as he spent hour after hour in solitude, he could sense his social skills slipping further away. 

Upon his release, Eaton remembers feeling disconnected from the world, “like a ghost.” Collins said that’s common and often results in high rates of self-harm. 

“The sensory deprivation followed by overwhelming sensory stimulation – it’s hard to tolerate,” she said. “But it happens very regularly.” 

John Eaton is quick to dismiss any excuse or explanation for his brother’s violence. But he told the Press Herald that the corrections system let his family down by failing to help Eaton transition safely into the world.


“That monster should not have been released to society the way that he was,” he said. “If there was some sort of halfway house or intermediary … between the prison system and him setting foot on the street, this wouldn’t have happened.” 

An investigator attaches a cable barrier at the end of the driveway to Bob and Patti Eger’s home on Augusta Road. Ben McCanna/Staff Photographer


On Sunday morning, Eaton asked his parents to pick him up from the hotel. They helped him get a rental car and then returned to the Egers’ home in Bowdoin.  

As he drove through Lewiston, he rode past an old house. It was there that Eaton experienced what he called “an addictive thinking moment.”

Instead of driving to Bowdoin, he bought and smoked $20 worth of crack

Drugs and alcohol had long been triggers for Eaton, who said he began drinking at the age of 11. By high school, he regularly smoked marijuana and used cocaine. Several people, including Miller, John Eaton, and Joseph Eaton himself, said they noticed changes in Eaton’s behavior after he started taking steroids in his teenage years.  


Several studies have linked steroid use to increased levels of aggression and criminality, particularly in those who already have antisocial personality traits.  

Eaton said the steroids contributed to him abusing his high school girlfriend, who broke up with him after he assaulted her.  

But John Eaton said the drugs and alcohol only revealed the dark tendencies his brother already possessed. 

“It got rid of the inhibitions enough to allow the real Joe Eaton out that he was kind of hiding,” he said. “The master manipulator couldn’t manipulate as well when he was under the influence.” 

Eaton has bounced in and out of drug treatment programs since high school, occasionally achieving sobriety. He remembers doing well before getting hooked on pain medication following a 2010 back surgery.  

He said he was drunk when in 2015 he assaulted his second wife and stepson, who got caught in the fray. He spent two years in prison for it, then got sober and moved to Florida to start a new life.


But months after his release, he met a cousin in a bar for a drink. The beer gave way to weed, then meth, then heroin, and soon he was in the bathroom of his aunt’s house holding a gun to his head and “talking to God.”  

When police arrived, he charged at them with a baseball bat in the hopes they’d kill him, he said.  

Instead, they locked him up in what he now refers to as “mental health warehouses.” 

He said he achieved sobriety again before his latest release in Maine. But with the crack still in his system Sunday night, he said a prayer at the Egers’ dinner table, shared a meal from KFC, watched a show about Jesus, and went to bed.


In the early hours of Monday, April 17, Joseph Eaton had a night of terror. David Eaton roused his son, rubbed his back, and promised him that he was safe. 


Joseph Eaton attributes the dream to post-traumatic stress disorder, one of a litany of mental health diagnoses he says he has received since he was a child: depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, and, most recently, borderline personality disorder.  

David and Cynthia Eaton Photo from Cynthia Eaton’s Facebook

He said he’s unsure whether to attribute his diagnoses to a series of head injuries or multiple instances of childhood sexual abuse – he claims he was assaulted by a male babysitter as a young boy, by an older teenage girl when he was 11 and multiple times by another perpetrator he refuses to discuss at all, except to clarify that neither of his parents ever abused him.  

Whatever the cause, he said his mental health issues have resulted in patterns of self-harm and attempted suicide since he was in grade school. 

The Press Herald could not access Eaton’s medical records, and friends and family members would not discuss the specifics of his mental health. But several public court records back up his claims that he tried and failed for years to get a handle on his destructive mood swings. 

One assessment conducted after his domestic violence arrest in 2015 noted that Eaton was in counseling but was likely to re-offend and that he posed “a concern to the community’s safety with a high probability.” 

“It’s just like a pressure cooker where the relief valve won’t go,” Eaton said. “It just ends up blowing up.” 


Borderline personality disorder is a mental health condition that severely impacts how someone regulates their emotions. Like bipolar disorder, it often comes with major swings in emotion, said Dr. Michele Galietta, a forensic psychologist who teaches at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice. But while patients with bipolar disorder can spend weeks in manic or depressive states, those with borderline can shift between emotional extremes far more suddenly.  

Galietta has not examined Eaton or his medical records and said she is not in a position to diagnose him. But his criminal record and the stories he shared with the Press Herald suggest Eaton has traits consistent with both borderline and antisocial personality disorders, including poor impulse control, minimization of responsibility, and justification of violence because he was treated unfairly. Galietta said these patterns are common in personality disorder patients who have histories of domestic violence.

Early childhood trauma, including sexual abuse, can affect your ability to process emotions, she said. Many victims turn to drugs and alcohol. 

“It creates this domino effect where one risk factor pulls you into more and more risks and away from resilience factors,” Galietta said.

Adults may struggle to maintain healthy relationships, she said and might see minor slights or stressors as justification for aggressive responses, including domestic violence or stalking, which court records show were present in both of Eaton’s marriages.  

Most people with personality disorders don’t commit violent crimes, Galietta stressed. But personality disorders often go undiagnosed and untreated, she said, due partly to the fact that their symptoms tend to make patients difficult and unlikable. Instead, many end up in the prison system – a particularly bad fit for those who struggle to regulate their emotions.  


While prisons are getting better at ensuring prisoners get their prescribed medication, Galietta said, they rarely provide counseling as rigorous and specific as the recommended Dialectic Behavioral Therapy, a treatment Eaton said he’s never heard of.  

The result, Galietta said, is a system that takes in many of the people at the highest risk for self-harm and violence, makes them worse, and releases them into the world with little oversight. 

John Eaton said he spent years warning his parents that his brother was dangerous.  

John Eaton in Kansas City, Mo., where he now lives and planned to let his younger brother, Joseph Eaton, stay with him after his release from prison. Nick Wagner

In 2007, shortly after the brothers graduated from high school, John walked in on Joseph choking a girlfriend in their parents’ home. The struggle migrated to David and Cynthia’s bedroom, where Joseph Eaton hit his father, prompting a savage fight between the two brothers. Joe bit off part of John’s cheek before the elder brother took control and kicked Joe until he stopped moving.  

The fight effectively ended the brothers’ relationship.

“I realized that he was capable of anything that night,” John Eaton said. “There was no sanctity of the household. No sanctity or respect for my parents. If this was a book, the foreshadowing is there.” 


The brothers reconciled just months ago after David and Cynthia finally convinced John to reach out to Joseph and give him another chance. The family had planned to live in John’s Kansas City home until they could buy a new house in Wichita. 


On Monday morning, Bob Eger fixed Eaton a plate for breakfast. Patti Eger poured him a cup of coffee. Afterward, the men went to one of Bob Eger’s worksites so Joseph Eaton could learn about the construction business.

Hours before the killings, his mind was still on his “endless” future; he imagined going into business with his brother, buying real estate with his father, and perhaps someday even building a church. 

“There were a lot of little things that I was thinking about doing with my life, and fixing the relationships that had broken was definitely on the forefront,” he said. “I just wanted a chance.” 

But Eaton was frustrated that not everyone was willing to give him a clean slate.  


His two ex-wives had cut him out of their lives and the lives of his three children and stepchildren, who are now all between the ages of 8 and 12. Both ex-wives declined to be interviewed for this story.

Eaton said he was not surprised that his first wife filed for a protective order against him in April – their relationship had ended badly in 2013 after Eaton assaulted her, and she successfully sued to terminate his parental rights in 2016.  

But he was angry that even after five years locked up his sins weren’t forgiven.

“You call it the Department of Corrections,” he told the Press Herald. “But then the person gets out, and no one’s convinced that they’re corrected.”

He held out hope that he could make amends with his second wife. They had been together for about two years until December 2015 when Eaton threw her down by the neck and slapped her face. His stepson, who was 2 at the time, hit his head during the struggle. 

Eaton said the couple had a brief reconciliation in 2017 after he served his prison sentence for the assault, but when they fell out again, she refused to let him have any contact with the kids. 


Birthday cards he attempted to send through his mother returned unopened. She filed for a protective order against him in 2021, saying he refused to stop contacting her and her father.  

“Joseph is a very mentally unstable person and will talk and manipulate … to get what he wants in the end,” she wrote. “I have been dreading his release every day. I know he is gonna come looking for (our son).”

The order expired less than a month before Eaton was released from prison in April. He saw it as an opening. 

After leaving Bob Eger’s worksite Monday afternoon, he called his former father-in-law – a move he said he intended to be a non-threatening step toward reestablishing a relationship with his children. 

The call was not well received. He was warned to stay away.

Eaton pulled into a parking lot in Lisbon and recorded a tearful video on Facebook.  


“You can’t forgive somebody or understand what they go through, you can’t give somebody a second chance, but you say you’re Christian. How does that make sense?” Eaton says in the video. “Why can’t you just try to take it slow, try to get to know the person again? I just wish somebody would forgive me.”  

It was Eaton’s last stop before returning to the Egers’ home. As he drove to Bowdoin, he says he felt something shift inside him, a feeling he described as a “psychotic break.” He insists that the only drugs he had taken since the day before were two marijuana edibles. 

Minutes later, four people were dead. 

“My good days far outnumber my bad days,” he told the Press Herald. “But my bad days – they’re horrible. People get hurt.” 


When Joseph Eaton got back to the Egers’ home Monday afternoon, he asked his mother for a Kohl’s coupon so he could go shopping again. Moments after that mundane interaction, he was downstairs grabbing her handgun.


Patti Eger with her goldendoodle, Max, who was also killed in the shootings on April 17. Photo courtesy of Linda Walker

He sat next to his mother and Patti Eger on the couch as they looked at their phones. He does not remember what he said to his mother or how she responded – only lifting the gun and firing.

After killing his parents, the Egers, and their goldendoodle, he remembers washing his father’s face, closing the eyes of the four bodies, and covering them with blankets “to show respect for what happened.”  

He said he remembers writing a note but not what it said. According to police, it said the writer had been molested “and that there was nothing done about it.” It went on to say that the writer was “being freed of pain” and “wanted a new life.” 

Eaton said he was hurt that his parents hadn’t done more to hold his abusers accountable, but said that’s not why he shot them.  

From the moment he left the Lisbon parking lot, he said, he was not in control of his actions – not when he repeatedly pulled the trigger, and not when he loaded his car with seven pistols and a rifle belonging to Bob Eger, weapons he said he was prepared to turn on police if they came after him. 

“It’s like I couldn’t stop myself,” he said. “The only way I can really say it is ‘possessed.’ ”  


Eaton said the feeling broke only for a split second just before he left the home on Augusta Road. He remembers standing at the kitchen table and sobbing, overcome by a sudden rush of “pure love” for his family. 

Investigators walk around the scene at Bob and Patti Eger’s home in Bowdoin they were found dead alongside Cynthia and David Eaton on April 18. Ben McCanna/Staff Photographer

Investigators have refused to discuss how Eaton, a convicted felon barred from possessing firearms, was able to access so many guns so soon after his release. His indictment offers only one clue: He stole them. Eaton told the Press Herald he took some weapons from a closet and others from a filing cabinet where he knew Bob Eger kept them.

Then he drove to Lewiston, where he picked up two friends and enough drugs to kill himself. The three men drove to a hotel in Portland, where Eaton talked with his brother on the phone.

“When I spoke to him, there was nothing wrong,” John Eaton remembered. “Everything was hunky dory.” 

Joseph Eaton lived through the night and came up with a new plan: drive south until he escaped the police or they killed him in a shootout.   



Eaton was still feeling the effects of meth, crack, and heroin on Tuesday morning when he dropped the two men off in Lewiston and turned south, ready to flee the state.

While he worried that police were following him, Patti Eger’s sister had just discovered the bodies.  

Around 9 a.m., Lisa Shea found the blood, bullet holes, and bodies at the Augusta Road home and called 911, according to a police affidavit.

In his paranoid state, Eaton said, he confused several civilian cars on Interstate 295 in Yarmouth for pursuing police cruisers. He opened fire, hitting several vehicles and wounding three people: Sean, Justin, and Paige Halsey.

Some two dozen emergency call transcripts obtained by the Press Herald were so heavily redacted that they contained essentially no details about the highway shootings or the police manhunt that immediately followed. 

As armed law enforcement officers combed the area for Eaton, he readied himself in a thicket of woods for a shootout. He said it was only at the last moment that he decided to turn himself in peacefully – a divine intervention, he said.


Police take Joseph Eaton into custody after he shot at several cars on I-295 south near Yarmouth on April 18. News Center Maine

In June, a Cumberland County grand jury indicted Eaton on 11 charges related to the interstate shootings, including several counts of attempted murder with a firearm.  

Eaton said police also found a small amount of drugs on him, the few leftovers from his binge on Monday night – he has not been charged with any drug-related crimes. 

Still, Eaton is adamant that smoking crack on Sunday was not his first step down a slippery slope and that drugs had nothing to do with the killings. He swears he was sober Monday afternoon when he killed Cynthia, David, Bob, and Patti.  

Eaton’s court-appointed lawyer, Andrew Wright, did not respond to questions from a reporter about Eaton’s confession and whether he plans to make an insanity defense.

Eaton says he’s ready for whatever comes. He is set to be arraigned Wednesday afternoon.

“People are no longer walking this earth because of me,” he said. “Whatever the punishment is, I deserve it.”



A week and a half after the shootings in Bowdoin, a beleaguered John Eaton boarded a plane north to his childhood home. 

What might have been, he wondered, if he had succeeded in talking his parents out of traveling to Maine to pick his brother up from prison? 

Would his parents still be alive if they had been able to see past their love for Joseph and recognize the warning signs that John had been trying to flag since their brutal fights in high school? 

“They never understood that because he was still their son,” he said. “It was just their sons that were fighting, not me protecting them from him. I couldn’t explain that to them properly.” 

He also worried about how he would be received at the Egers’ funeral. He had been close to them almost all his life. Their only son, Robbie Eger, was one of his oldest friends. Robbie Eger did not respond to multiple interview requests.


Would the Midcoast community he left as a boy hold his name against him? Would there be retribution? 

But his pilgrimage home turned out to be a deeply moving four days filled with grief, joy, relief, reunion, and a series of coincidences that felt like they just had to mean something – like discovering his seatmate on his flight was a priest. 

John Eaton’s relationship with God had long been complicated, and the slaying of his parents had shaken his faith. Here was a chance for guidance. 

“Hey,” he told the priest. “I think you and I are supposed to have a conversation.”

He spoke at the Egers’ funeral, quoting a Bible verse he discussed with the priest. Far from being ostracized, he said he was welcomed with open arms, and the event became almost like a family reunion.

The trip was also the start of a new chapter in Eaton’s life: engagement. Just one day before David and Cynthia Eaton had left for Maine, John and his girlfriend told them they were expecting their first child.


John Eaton and his fiance, Kristin Milligan, in Kansas City, Mo. Eaton proposed while the couple was in Maine for Bob and Patti Eger’s funerals. Nick Wagner

John Eaton said he was grateful he’d gotten to share this news – which made his mother “light up like a Christmas tree” – but he regretted that his parents would never meet his child or see him marry his girlfriend.  

In the wake of their deaths, he moved up his proposal timeline, leaning on a lesson he had learned during difficult years in the Marine Corps: “The little moments of joy that you try to find in horrible times are the only things that get you through.” 

He nervously protected his garment bag through the security checkpoint. He recruited Robbie Eger to record the moment.  

John Eaton came up with a plan to propose at the Swinging Bridge in Brunswick. But when the funeral home director called in the middle of lunch and said he was ready to meet with him, he decided again to push up his timeline. 

“I didn’t want to propose to her after what I was about to have to go do,” he said. “I put the ring on her finger, sat down, slammed as much clam chowder as I could, and ran out the door so we could get my parents.” 

Even as John Eaton has searched for and found tiny silver linings, he’s not interested in his brother’s explanations or excuses.

A few weeks ago, Joseph Eaton sent his brother a letter from Two Bridges, attempting to explain what happened.  

It left John disgusted. He said he will attempt to forgive his brother someday because that’s what his parents would want. But for now, he said, he doesn’t have a brother.  

“That boy wasn’t oppressed. He was given everything this world had to offer. He was given every opportunity from people that loved him,” he said. “Everybody did everything they could to make sure that Joe Eaton had the opportunity to rehabilitate. And he abused those opportunities. He abused those people.” 

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