POLAND — As police continued to investigate the grisly Thanksgiving Day slaying on Poplar Drive, those closest to the suspect in the killing tell a tale of two Justin Butterfields.
There was the Justin Butterfield who was good with his children and a loyal friend to many. And there was the Justin Butterfield who was scary, bizarre and often dangerous when he was off his psychiatric medication.
Butterfield, 34, is accused of killing his brother, 38-year-old Gabe Damour, at Butterfield’s trailer at 14 Poplar Drive. Charged with murder, he was being held at the Androscoggin County Jail in Auburn without bail.
Witnesses say the killing was a gruesome one and that it was committed after Butterfield claimed to be battling with creatures from another galaxy who were out to get him. Police were called to the home after disturbances were reported there early Thursday morning. Damour’s body was found at the trailer, his brother still inside the home.
All of this was horrible, but not shocking news to those who knew Butterfield the best.
Friends and family say for years they have tried to get him committed to long stays at facilities where he could get help for his schizophrenia. Instead, they said, he would be held for a day or two and then released, occasionally without medication.
“This was a long time coming,” said Nate Howard, a friend and former roommate of both suspect and victim in the case. “The last couple years, things have really been going downhill with him. He’s been getting progressively worse, mentally. We’ve begged the police. We begged St. Mary’s and all the different hospitals, but they’ll only keep him for a couple days and then they let him go.”
Howard, of Auburn, has known Butterfield since he was 12. A couple years ago, Howard said, Butterfield’s behavior got so bizarre and unstable, Howard had his friend “blue papered,” or involuntarily committed to a mental health facility.
“He’d been telling me there were people next door who were trying to kill him; that they were sneaking into his house; that he was being poisoned,” Howard said. “I went to his house one day and he had all these knives straight across the table. And the hospitals were like, ‘he’s not going to hurt anybody. We’re going to have to let him go.’ And we begged them — we were like, you have to keep him longer because he IS going to hurt somebody. He’s telling us that he has a plan.”
Earlier this year, while high on crystal methamphetamine, friends said, Butterfield led police in Bath on a chase — a chase that ended when Butterfield fled into the woods and then swam in the river, not far from where it meets the ocean. He had to be rescued from an island before he was brought to a hospital for mental health evaluation.
“He was saying that these aliens were trying to get him and all this crazy stuff,” Howard said. “They didn’t take him to jail; they took him to the mental hospital. They kept him five or six days and then he was out again.”
No charges were ever brought against Butterfield in that case.
Over the past couple years, friends said, this kind of behavior became more commonplace. At one point, Howard and his brother went to Butterfield’s trailer and removed all the knives.
“I have a dozen videos of him just staring blankly at a wall,” Howard said. “He said these people are trying to kill him and he believe they live in the trailer next door.”
‘NOBODY EVER LISTENED’
The increasingly bizarre behavior is in stark contrast to the other version of Justin Butterfield, the one his friends and family adore.
There are photos of Butterfield with his daughter and young son in which a smiling Justin looks healthy, fit and happy. That’s the Justin Butterfield they remember the best. When he was on his medication and his mind was right, he was a good father and a great friend.
“He was great, super funny and loyal to a fault,” Howard said. “And especially before this started happening about four years ago.”
Yaicha Provencher, Butterfield’s ex-girlfriend and mother to his son, was likewise involved in the struggle to get him the help he needs, a struggle that was so often fruitless.
“Since 2018, I’ve been advocating for him,” she said. “There (were) so many calls to the hospitals about keeping him because he was a danger to himself and others. But nobody ever listened.”
Provencher said Butterfield ended up in hospitals at least six times since April alone.
“And as always, there was never a plan,” she said. “He was always released within two or three days. There were two stays where he was held for six to eight days. That’s the longest they would keep him.”
Just days ago, Howard said, Butterfield was investigated for bursting into Provencher’s home, but was not arrested or taken into protective custody despite his history of behavior described as bizarre. And similar things have been happening for years, according to Provencher, who also has custody of Butterfield’s daughter.
“There have been so, so many calls for help, so many hospital stays,” Provencher said Thursday night. “But nobody listens. It’s not for lack of a support system, because he had one.”
She said Butterfield had a mental health counselor, and a guardian ad litem had been assigned to manage Butterfield’s relationships with his two children. Additionally, many family members and friends often called hospitals, mental health facilities and police departments trying to get him help.
“There are just no resources for people like this,” Provencher said. “I would really like to raise awareness of that.”
She was continuing to care for Butterfield’s son and daughter, trying to shield them against some of the heavy media coverage of the killing.
“I feel bad for his children,” she said. “None of this is their fault.”
Howard said Butterfield’s erratic behavior began around four years ago. Roughly 2 1/2 years ago Howard had Butterfield committed to a hospital for the first time. After that stay, Butterfield was put on medication and was doing well. He got a job, he was able to have regular visits with his kids and he was sober enough to help his brother, Gabe, who had problems of his own, to come in off the streets.
But then, Howard said, Butterfield started skipping medication doses. Soon after, alarming behavior would follow and the people who lived near Butterfield took notice.
One neighbor said that whenever he had visitors, he warned them to stay away from trailer No. 14, where Butterfield lived. Another woman said she would not let her children outside because Butterfield would often walk by her house, acting strangely. Last week, she said, Butterfield stopped next to her driveway and stared intently at her husband before moving on. In her neighborhood, people knew enough to steer clear of the man. They would send text messages to warn neighbors when Butterfield was in the area.
Butterfield has mostly lived in the Poland area, but he did move around a bit in previous years. He lived in Lewiston for a short time in 2007, according to his criminal records. In that time, he compiled a criminal record of burglaries, thefts and criminal mischief and served short stays in jail.
In 2014, he was convicted of driving while intoxicated in Mechanic Falls and his license was suspended. In 2018, he was charged with making a false public alarm and, later, with domestic assault. He was convicted of the assault but the 270 day jail sentence was suspended.
According to another friend, William Rouille, there were many times when police failed to arrest Butterfield even when he confessed to criminal acts.
Earlier in the year, Rouille said, Butterfield badly beat another man with a crowbar after an altercation that began while both men were driving. Police investigated, but no arrest was made.
At one point, Butterfield choked and assaulted his mother, friends say, when delusion led him to believe that she was a demon out to get him.
“He didn’t even know who she was,” Rouille said.
His mother moved out of their home to escape her son’s rages.
One time, Rouille recalled, Butterfield came home covered in blood, mumbling about a woman doing the devil’s work and how that woman would never do such things again. Police came to investigate, inspected the bloody clothing, but left soon after.
“The system has been sweeping him under the rug for quite a while now,” Rouille said. “The police have been sweeping things under the rug, too. Justin thought everyone was a demon. He thought he could heal. He would tell police this, and the cops would be like, take your meds, Justin. Nobody wanted to deal with his mental illness. Now his brother is dead because the system failed.”
Rouille said not long ago he went to pick up Butterfield after another of his stays at a hospital-based mental health facility. On the way out, Butterfield started telling hospital staff that he had been having sex with other patients as a means of saving them. According to Rouille, the hospital sent him home anyway.
The mother of both Damour and Butterfield lives in Lewiston and was notified of her elder son’s death — and her other son’s arrest — on Thursday. Beyond that, Howard said, there were not many people left in Butterfield’s sphere.
“Sad to say a lot of people kind of left the social circle when things started getting bad,” Howard said. “Just a small handful of us stayed in contact with him.”
One thing that everybody seems to agree on is that Butterfield absolutely loved his brother Gabe. When he is back on medication and in his right mind, they said, Butterfield is going to have a hard time coming to grips with what he’s accused of doing.
“It really is sad,” Howard said.