BOWDOIN, Maine (AP) — A man confessed to killing four people, including his parents, and then firing on motorists on Interstate 295, just days after being released from prison, police said Wednesday.
Law enforcement officials released more information including identities of the victims of the shootings at a home in Bowdoin and 25 miles (40 kilometers) to the south on the highway in Yarmouth, Maine.
Joseph Eaton, 34, had been released Friday from the Maine Correctional Center in Windham, where he was picked up by his mother after completing a sentence for aggravated assault, police said. That crime was serious enough to prevent him from possessing a gun in Maine.
The shootings in Maine began in the small town of Bowdoin, where four people were killed Tuesday, with three bodies discovered in a home and one in a barn, police said. Then a chaotic scene developed in which shots were fired at vehicles on an interstate highway over 20 miles (32 kilometers) away in the community of Yarmouth, police said. Three people were shot there, and one remained in critical condition Wednesday.
The seven people shot Tuesday were the latest victims of mass shootings in the U.S., whose targets included a Christian elementary school in Nashville, Tennessee; a bank in Louisville, Kentucky, and a Sweet Sixteen party in a small city in Alabama.
“This is an active investigation with a lot of moving parts,” Shannon Moss, state police spokesperson, said Wednesday.
The day before the shootings, an anguished man believed to be Eaton posted a roughly two-minute live video on Facebook criticizing people who he said are Christian and don’t give people a second chance. “What good does it do to hate somebody?” he said, choking back tears on the video. “You know, it destroys you.”
On the day he was released from prison, the man believed to be Eaton posted on Facebook that he was feeling thankful. “It’s finally over. There are so many people I can’t wait to see.”
Moss confirmed that state police were aware of the video, and that it’s part of their investigation.
Eaton, who was living in Bowdoin, was charged with four counts of murder but was not immediately charged in the highway shootings, she said. He was jailed while awaiting a court appearance. It was unclear if he had an attorney to speak on his behalf, a jail official said Wednesday.
The names of the victims were not released, and state police didn’t discuss any possible motive. The four bodies were taken to the state medical examiner’s office in Augusta for positive identification and autopsies.
Ian Halsey, of Bowdoinham, said that two cousins were shot and that his uncle suffered shrapnel injuries in a single car. One of his cousins is in critical condition, and none of the family knew the shooter, he said.
“They were just passersby in the wrong place at the wrong time,” he said of his family. “It’s horrible what happened.”
In Bowdoin, Denise Pride, 58, a neighbor who lives in a farmhouse down the street from the location of the four deaths, said members of the rural community were shaken by the tragedy. The house where the killings took place is in a wooded area of rolling hills and farms, and houses range from mobile homes to large estates.
Pride said one of the victims was famous for delivering baked goods to neighbors on holidays. “They were very kind people,” Pride said. “The neighbors were texting, shocked that it happened, and to them.”
Eaton was charged over the past decade with more than a half-dozen crimes and served an eight-month sentence last year for assault, according to state records. Past convictions included aggravated assault, a felony that would prevent him from legally having a firearm.
The origins and ownership of the firearms used in Tuesday’s shootings were unclear. State police declined to comment on the weapon that was used.
In Bowdoin, yellow crime tape hung where the shootings took place in a home flanked by woods at the end of a long, gravel driveway. Detectives and evidence technicians remained in the home collecting evidence late Tuesday, long after hearses left the driveway.
At one point, a woman spoke to police outside the house, then dropped to her knees and sobbed.
In Yarmouth on Wednesday, traffic flowed normally on Interstate 295, where a day before the three people were shot in cars and the gunman was apprehended.