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Friends say Thanksgiving Day murder could have been prevented with a stronger mental health system

justin and gave.jpg
courtesy of Yaicha Provencher
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Justin Butterfield, right, and his brother Gabe Damour.

On Thanksgiving day, Androscoggin County sheriff's deputies were called to a house in Poland. Inside, 38-year-old Gabe Damour was found dead, and his brother, 34-year-old Justin Butterfield, was arrested and charged with murder. Butterfield's friends say it's a tragedy that could have been prevented. They say that for years, they tried in vain to get him effective treatment for schizophrenia. Now, they hope the story of what happened will lead to changes in Maine's mental health system.

This is the first of a two-part series on the mental health care system in Maine. Read the second story here.

Nate Howard of Turner first met Butterfield in seventh grade.

"We had a couple classes together," Howard says. "And he's just a goofy fun, dude, you know, and we hit it off. And he's been one of my very best friends for the last 20 plus years."

Yaicha Provencher met Butterfield in 2010 and was his girlfriend for eight years. He came from a large family of five brothers. She says he was playful and smart.

"A really loyal, really good friend to many people," Provencher says. "Family always came first. Even after he took in his brother Gabe — he had taken in all of his brothers at one point. So he was always trying to take care of everybody. Just a really good person."

They had a son together, and Butterfield also had a daughter from a previous relationship. Nate Howard says he set an example as a young parent.

"When he had his daughter, he got full custody of her and he took really good care of her, you know, and he like, I mean, he set the bar, like, a lot of us that were young, we were partying. And he, he wasn't doing that," says Howard.

Butterfield was busy working as a sought-after mechanic who friends say could fix anything. But about four years ago, they say, he started to behave differently. First, he thought people were stealing from him. Then, he started jotting down license plates, sure that he was being followed. He believed recorders were planted in his house, and accused Provencher of communicating with people who were out to get him. He stopped sleeping and would wake her up at night to question her.

"It was wearing on me," says Provencher. "And I'm like, I can't keep doing this. I can tell that something's off. He's seeing things, he's hearing things that aren't there."

Provencher became worried for her and the kids' safety. She called police and told them Butterfield was having a psychotic episode. She says they questioned him, but they didn't think he needed hospitalization. Over the next couple of months, Provencher says she called the Maine Crisis Line several times to try to get Butterfield hospitalized.

"Because, you know, that's the number that you're told to call is the crisis hotline," she says. "And every time I had called it was a dead end, because I was told basically, either myself or law enforcement would have to convince him to go."

The couple broke up and Butterfield moved out. His troubling behavior eventually did lead police to bring him to the hospital, where he was released after a couple of days. Another time, Nate Howard brought him to the hospital after he found Butterfield's house in disarray and knives lined up on a counter for protection against assassins he believed lived next door.

"After a long interview thing, they were like, 'Well, he says he's not going to hurt anybody. He says he's not going to hurt himself. So we're going to let him go.' And I was like, 'You need to keep him, he's going to hurt somebody. He told me he's going to hurt somebody,'" says Howard.

After more prodding, he says the hospital relented and kept Butterfield for a couple days. But when he was released, Howard says there were no concrete plans for follow-up care.

"They gave him like some paperwork that had resources, if he was going to do that himself. But where he was mentally, he wasn't capable of that."

But a turning point came, says Howard, when Butterfield lost custody of his daughter.

"He had like, a moment of clarity, I guess where he was like, I'm failing my daughter," Howard says. "And it messed him up, you know, and I had a real heart to heart with him. I told him, I was like, 'There's only one way you can fix this.' I was like, 'You have to play ball. Take the medication, go to the counseling. Don't do it for you, do it for your daughter, because she's what matters at the end of the day.' And he's like, 'I think I'm gonna have to.' And then he started doing it. He started taking the medication."

After that, Howard says, Butterfield did well for about a year and a half. He took in his brother, Gabe Damour, who was homeless. But in early 2022, Butterfield started skipping doses. Provencher, who has custody of both kids, says he spiraled into crisis. He was hospitalized in May after leading Sagadahoc County sheriff's deputies on a high speed chase in Woolwich. Provencher hoped he would finally get long-term residential treatment, but after several days she got a phone call from a member of hospital staff, notifying her that he would be released.

"And I did tell her, you know, that he is going to kill somebody," says Provencher. "And the response that I got, I'll never forget. She said, 'Well, I hope not.' And I hung up the phone. And I was at work and I was hysterical, because I just couldn't believe after all of this, that he was still being denied treatment and being sent home."

Despite the severity of his illness, Provencher says Butterfield saw a counselor just once a week and talked to a case manager on the phone once a month. She says he was briefly hospitalized three more times before he barged into her house in November, called her evil, and took one of her cats. Provencher called 911 and told responding officers that Butterfield was having a psychotic episode. She locked her doors, fearful he would come back. Instead, two days later on Thanksgiving, she found out his brother had been stabbed to death, and that Butterfield had been arrested for the murder.

"I knew something like this was gonna happen," she says. "But to be honest, I truly felt like it was gonna be me, you know? And I just feel horrible that it had to be his brother."

Butterfield's friends say it didn't have to end this way. And it was only after his arrest that they discovered a treatment option they think could have helped.

If you or someone you know is suffering from depression or other mental health disorders, help can be found at: Maine’s 24-hour crisis hotline (1-888-568-1112 or text HOME to 741741)