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A tale of two Justins: Poland murder suspect described as a loving father, brother whom the mental health system failed

The trailer at 14 Poplar Drive in Poland remains behind police tape behind a murder on Thanksgiving morning Friday morning. Andree Kehn/Sun Journal

POLAND – While police continued to investigate the horrific Thanksgiving Day murder on Poplar Drivethose closest to the murder suspect tell a story about two Justin Butterfields.

Justin Butterfield Submitted photo

There was the Justin Butterfield who was good with his kids 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, in Butterfield’s caravan at 14 Poplar Drive. Charged with murder, he was held without bail at Androscoggin County Jail in Auburn.

Witnesses say the murder was gruesome and was committed after Butterfield claimed to be battling creatures from another galaxy bent on getting him. The police came to the house after disturbances were reported early Thursday morning. Damour’s body was found at the caravan, his brother still in the house.

All this was terrible, but not shocking news to those who knew Butterfield best.

Friends and family say they spent years trying to commit him to long-term 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, occasionally without medication.

“This was a long time coming,” said Nate Howard, a friend and former roommate of both the suspect and victim in the case. “The last couple of years it really went downhill for him. Mentally he is getting worse. We begged the police. We’ve begged St. Mary’s and all the different hospitals, but they only hold him for a few days and then they let him go.’

Howard, from Auburn, has known Butterfield since he was twelve. A few years ago, Howard said, Butterfield’s behavior became so bizarre and unstable that Howard had his friend “blue paper” or involuntarily committed to a mental health facility.

“He had told me there were people next to him trying to kill him; that they sneak into his house; that he was being poisoned,” Howard said. “I went to his house one day and he had all these knives right across the table. And the hospitals said, ‘He’s not going to hurt anyone. We’ll have to let him go.’ And we begged them – we were like, you have to keep him longer because he’s going to hurt someone. He tells us 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 into the river not far from where it meets the ocean . He had to be rescued from an island before being taken to a hospital for mental health evaluation.

“He said 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 held him for five or six days and then he was out.

No charges were ever brought against Butterfield in that case.

In the past few years, friends said, this kind of behavior has become more commonplace. At one point, Howard and his brother went to Butterfield’s caravan 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 believes they live in the caravan next door.”

‘NO ONE NEVER LISTEN’

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The increasingly bizarre behavior is a stark contrast to the other version of Justin Butterfield, the one his friends and family adore.

There are pictures of Butterfield with his daughter and baby boy where a smiling Justin looks healthy, fit and happy. That’s the Justin Butterfield they remember best. When he was on his meds and his mind was good, he was a good father and a good friend.

“He was amazing, super funny and true to a fault,” Howard said. “And especially before this started happening about four years ago.”

Yaicha Provencher, Butterfield’s ex-girlfriend and mother of his son, was also involved in the struggle to get him the help he needs, a struggle that was so often fruitless.

“I’ve been advocating for him since 2018,” she said. “There (were) so many calls to the hospitals to detain him because he was a danger to himself and others. But nobody ever listened.”

Provencher said Butterfield has been hospitalized 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 quarters where he was held for six to eight days. That’s the longest they’d keep him.”

Several days ago, Howard said, Butterfield was under investigation for breaking into Provencher’s home, but was not arrested or remanded in 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 many calls for help, so many hospital stays,” Provencher said Thursday night. “But nobody listens. It’s not because of the lack of a support system, because he had one.

She said Butterfield had a mental health counselor and a guardian ad litem was appointed to manage Butterfield’s relationship with his two children. In addition, many relatives and friends often called hospitals, mental health facilities and police departments to help him.

“There just aren’t resources for these kinds of people,” Provencher said. “I would very much like to give more publicity to this.”

She continued to care for Butterfield’s son and daughter and tried to protect them from the heavy media coverage of the murder.

“I feel sorry for his children,” she said. “None of this is their fault.”

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A member of the Maine State Police Evidence Response Team walks Friday to 14 Poplar Drive in Poland, the scene of a Thanksgiving Day murder. Andree Kehn/Sun Journal

ALARMING BEHAVIOR

Howard said Butterfield’s erratic behavior started about four years ago. About 2 1/2 years ago, Howard had Butterfield admitted to a hospital for the first time. After that stay, Butterfield was medicated and made amends. He got a job, was able to visit regularly with his children, and was sober enough to help his troubled brother Gabe get off the streets.

But then, Howard said, Butterfield started skipping medication doses. Alarming behavior would ensue soon after and the people who lived near Butterfield took notice.

A neighbor said that whenever he had visitors he would warn them to stay away from No. 14 caravan, where Butterfield lived. Another woman said she would not let her children out because Butterfield often behaved strangely by her house. Last week, she said, Butterfield pulled up next to her driveway and stared intently at her husband before continuing. People in her neighborhood knew enough to steer clear of the man. They sent text messages to alert neighbors if Butterfield was around.

Butterfield has mainly lived in the Polish area, but he has moved around a bit in recent years. According to his criminal record, he briefly lived in Lewiston in 2007. During that time, he compiled a criminal record of burglaries, thefts and criminal mischief and served short terms in prison.

In 2014, he was convicted of drunk driving in Mechanic Falls and had his driver’s license suspended. In 2018, he was charged with making a false public alarm and later domestic violence. He was convicted 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 committing criminal acts.

Earlier in the year, Rouille said, Butterfield severely beat another man with a crowbar after an altercation that began while both men were driving. Police have investigated, but no arrests have been made.

At one point, Butterfield choked and attacked his mother, friends say, when delusion led him to believe she was a demon bent on getting him.

“He didn’t even know who she was,” Rouille said.

His mother left their home to escape her son’s wrath.

Once, Rouille recalled, Butterfield came home covered in blood, muttering about a woman who did devilish work and how 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 him under the carpet for a while now,” says Rouille. “The police have also swept things under the carpet. Justin thought everyone was a demon. He thought he could heal. He would tell the police this, and the police would say, take your meds, Justin. No one wanted to deal with his mental illness. Now his brother is dead because the system failed.”

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Justin Butterfield Androscoggin County Jail

Rouille said he went to pick up Butterfield not long ago after another one of his stays in a mental health hospital. On his way out, Butterfield began telling hospital staff that he had sex with other patients to save them. According to Rouille, the hospital sent him home anyway.

The mother of both Damour and Butterfield lives in Lewiston and was made aware of her eldest son’s death – and the arrest of her other son – on Thursday. Beyond that, Howard said, not many people were left in Butterfield’s sphere.

“Sad to say a lot of people left the social circle when things started to get bad,” Howard said. “Only a small handful of us kept in touch with him.”

One thing everyone seems to agree on is that Butterfield absolutely loved his brother Gabe. Once he’s back on meds and in his right mind, they said, Butterfield will have a hard time coming to grips with what he’s been accused of.

“It’s really sad,” Howard said.

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