POLAND — As police continue to investigate the grisly Thanksgiving killing on Poplar Drive, those closest to the murder suspect are telling the story 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, weird, and often dangerous when he wasn’t on his psychiatric meds.
Butterfield, 34, is accused of killing his brother, Gabe Damour, 38, in Butterfield’s trailer at 14 Poplar Drive. Charged with murder, he was being held in Androscoggin County Jail in Auburn without bond.
Witnesses say the murder was horrific and was carried out after Butterfield pretended to fight with creatures from another galaxy who wanted to catch him. Police were called to the home after a disturbance was reported there early Thursday morning. Damour’s body was found in the trailer, his brother still inside the house.
All of this was horrible news, but not shocking to those who knew Butterfield best.
His friends and family say that for years they tried to commit him for long stays in facilities where he could get help for his schizophrenia. Instead, they said, he would be held for a day or two and then released, sometimes without medication.
“It was a long time coming,” said Nate Howard, a friend and former roommate of the suspect and victim in the case. “Things have really gone downhill with him in the last couple of years. He got progressively worse, mentally. We begged the police. We begged St. Mary’s and all the different hospitals, but they’ll only keep him for a few days and then they’ll let him go.
Howard, from Auburn, has known Butterfield since he was 12 years old. A few years ago, Howard said, Butterfield’s behavior became so bizarre and unstable that Howard had his friend blue papered or involuntarily committed to a mental health facility.
“He told me that there were people nearby who were trying to kill him; that they were sneaking into his house; that he was poisoned,” Howard said. “I went to his house one day and he had all these knives right on the table. And the hospitals said, ‘He won’t hurt anyone’. We’re going to have to let him go. And we begged them – we were like, you have to keep it longer because it’s going to hurt someone. He tells us he has a plan.
Earlier this year, while high on crystal meth, 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 being taken to hospital for an evaluation of his mental health.
“He was saying these aliens were trying to get him and all that crazy stuff,” Howard said. “They didn’t take him to jail; they took him to the mental hospital. They kept it for five or six days, then it was released again.
No charges were ever brought against Butterfield in this case.
Over the past two years, friends said, this type of behavior has become more common. At some point, Howard and his brother went to Butterfield’s trailer and pulled out all the knives.
“I have a dozen videos of him staring at a wall,” Howard said. “He said these people were trying to kill him and he thinks they live in the trailer next door.”
“NOBODY HAS 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. He’s the Justin Butterfield they remember best. When he took his medication and was right, he was a good father and a great friend.
“He was awesome, super funny and true to a fault,” Howard said. “And especially before it started happening about four years ago.”
Yaicha Provencher, Butterfield’s ex-girlfriend and mother to his son, has also been involved in the fight to get him the help he needs, a struggle so often unsuccessful.
“Since 2018, I’ve been defending him,” she said. “There (were) so many calls to hospitals to keep him because he was a danger to himself and others. But no one ever listened.
Provencher said Butterfield has 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 detained for six to eight days. That’s the longest they’d keep it.
Just days ago, Howard said, Butterfield was investigated for breaking into Provencher’s house but was not arrested or taken into 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 appointed to manage Butterfield’s relationship with her two children. Additionally, many family members and friends often called hospitals, mental health facilities, and the police to try to get him help.
“There just aren’t resources for people like that,” Provencher said. “I would really like to raise awareness of that.”
She continued to care for Butterfield’s son and daughter, trying to protect them from some of the heavy media coverage of the murder.
“I feel bad for his kids,” she said. “None of this is their fault.”
Howard said Butterfield’s erratic behavior began about four years ago. About 2 and a half years ago, Howard committed Butterfield to a hospital for the first time. After this stay, Butterfield was put on medication and doing well. He got a job, he was able to have regular visits with his children, and he was sober enough to help his brother, Gabe, who was having his own issues, off the streets.
But then, Howard said, Butterfield started skipping doses of medication. Soon after, alarming behavior would follow and people who lived near Butterfield took notice.
A neighbor said that whenever he had visitors he would warn them to stay away from trailer No 14, where Butterfield lived. Another woman said she wouldn’t leave her children outside because Butterfield often walked past her house, acting strangely. Last week, she said, Butterfield pulled up next to her driveway and gave her husband a close look before continuing. In his neighborhood, people knew enough to avoid the man. They would send text messages to notify neighbors when Butterfield was in the area.
Butterfield has mostly lived in the Poland area, but has moved around a bit in previous years. He lived in Lewiston for a short time in 2007, according to his criminal record. During this time, he built up a criminal record of burglary, theft, and criminal mischief and served short stints in prison.
In 2014, he was convicted of drunk driving in Mechanic Falls and his license was suspended. In 2018, he was charged with making a false public alert and later domestic assault. He was found guilty of the assault, but the 270-day prison sentence was suspended.
According to another friend, William Rouille, there were many times when the police failed to arrest Butterfield even when he confessed to criminal acts.
Earlier in the year, Rouille said, Butterfield severely beat another man with a crowbar after an altercation that began while the two men were driving. Police investigated, but no arrests were made.
At one point, Butterfield choked and assaulted his mother, friends say, when the delusion led him to believe she was a demon for having him.
“He didn’t even know who she was,” Rouillé said.
His mother left their home to escape her son’s wrath.
Once, Rouille recalls, Butterfield came home covered in blood, muttering that a woman was doing the devil’s work and that woman would never do such things again. The police came to investigate, inspected the bloody clothing, but left soon after.
“The system has been sweeping it under the rug for quite a while now,” Rouillé said. “The police also swept things under the rug. Justin thought everyone was a demon. He thought he could heal. He would say that to the police, and the cops would say, take your meds, Justin. No one wanted to deal with his mental illness. Now his brother is dead because the system failed.
Rusty said not too long ago that he picked up Butterfield after another one of his stints in an inpatient mental health facility. Upon leaving, Butterfield began telling hospital staff that he had had sex with other patients to save them. According to Rouille, the hospital sent him home anyway.
Damour and Butterfield’s mother lives in Lewiston and was notified of the death of her eldest son – and the arrest of her other son – on Thursday. Beyond that, Howard said, there weren’t many people left in Butterfield’s sphere.
“It’s sad to say that a lot of people kind of left the social circle when things started to get bad,” Howard said. “Just a small handful of us stayed in contact with him.”
One thing everyone seems to agree on is that Butterfield absolutely loved his brother Gabe. When he gets back on his meds and regains his sanity, they said, Butterfield will have a hard time understanding what he is accused of doing.
“It’s really sad,” Howard said.
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