WEST PARIS — Before he left for a walk through the woods one evening in June, and long before the troubled teenager would have a brief, violent encounter with a Maine state trooper along a quiet dirt road, James Reynolds was known as a wandering spirit.
Introverted and aloof, Reynolds had always been different.
Born into a poor, fractured family, for much of his life the 18-year-old longed for acceptance but made few friends. He experimented with drugs and alcohol, testing his boundaries like only teenagers can. But unlike his peers, Reynolds suffered from an emerging mental illness he could not control. His mother saw his pain but was powerless to stop it. She called him her “little boy lost.”
“I saw James as someone who wanted to do the right thing,” said Reynolds’ middle school principal, Troy Eastman. “But for whatever reason, life got in the way. Did he always make great decisions? No. But who does?”
Making the right choices never seemed difficult for Jason Wing.
Since he was a boy, Wing wanted to do two things: serve his country in the United States Marine Corps and become a Maine state trooper. By age 23, he had already checked both boxes.
As the military saying goes, Wing, now 28, lives a life “squared away.” He has a tidy home in Rumford. He has two dogs. He has a nice pickup truck. He has a promising career in law enforcement, and a personnel file thick with praise.
On that summer night, had James Reynolds not dropped out of ninth grade, he could have donned cap and gown to walk across the graduation stage. Instead, the lonely teenager and the squared-away trooper met on an isolated dirt road. In the flash of three gunshots, both joined a disturbing trend in Maine.
From 2000 to the end of 2012, officers in the state fired their guns at 71 people, hitting 57 of them.
Thirty-three of those people died. More than 40 percent of those who were shot, and more than half of those killed – 58 percent – were people with mental health problems, according to reports from the Maine Attorney General’s Office.
Each earned his own grim distinction – Reynolds, as one of the youngest in Maine shot by police, and Wing, now one of nine troopers to have used deadly force twice in his career.
In interviews with family members, neighbors, associates and friends, and through a review by the Maine Sunday Telegram of hundreds of pages of court records and other documents, portraits emerge of a teenager whose stability disintegrated before his family’s eyes, and a young state trooper whose commitment to public service seemed preordained.
While Wing has returned to service, nothing has been the same for the Reynolds family since June 8.
“I used to say, ‘I hate my life,’” said James’ mother, Julie Reynolds, in a recent interview. “I thought I did. Big mistake. I’d do anything to have my life back.”
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James Reynolds was 2 years old when his parents divorced.
When they split in 1997, Julie Reynolds was awarded a mobile home on Sumner Road in West Paris, a rural two-lane connector between Routes 26 and 4. The ribbon of pavement bends over hills and between ponds, a landscape occasionally interrupted by homes. Julie Reynolds’ ex-husband, also named James Reynolds, is a truck driver and mechanic who has little contact with the family now, Julie said.
As a medical aide, Julie Reynolds never made much money. During her shifts, Julie’s parents, Eleanor and Daniel Paine Sr., watched James and his older sister. The grandparents’ house, less than 100 yards from Julie’s trailer, was James’ second home.
“Julie worked all her life,” said Eleanor Paine, 84. “When she was working, James was over here.”
When James was at his grandparents’ house, he was often not far from his grandfather, an animal control officer for West Paris and a few surrounding towns. Sometimes the boy would help his grandfather at the animal shelter where he worked. Paine sang his grandson songs. They would tend Paine’s rabbits together. He was the father-figure the boy desperately needed.
“They were very close,” said Lloyd Waterhouse, pastor at the Grace Fellowship Church in Oxford and a family friend who has known Julie Reynolds since she was a little girl. “I don’t know what (James’) favorite hobbies were. He just hung around his grandfather a lot.”
Waterhouse, 84, related to the boy. He knew divorce was a heavy load for a child to carry.
Sometimes James would show up in church on Sunday, lingering in the back.
“He couldn’t stay,” Waterhouse said. “He had problems being in crowds.”
As a child, James was always different, Julie said. He had difficulty socializing and was the subject of grade-school teasing. He was big for his age, with brown hair, light skin, full cheeks and a timid smile.
Still, it was clear that James was sensitive and, above all, devoted to his grandfather. So when Daniel Paine fell ill and was hospitalized, James, 14, struggled to cope. His grandfather was 79 when he died Aug. 31, 2009.
“James had a hard time with that,” Waterhouse said. “He kind of blamed God for it. He even got so mad he tore his grandfather’s Bible up.”
Slowly at first, and then in frightening episodes, James began to unravel.
“He used to tell me, ‘I’m a normal teenager, I’m normal,’” his mother said. “ I think he wanted to be so badly like other kids, and he struggled with it a lot.”
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Few elementary school kids know what they will do with their lives. Jason Wing was one of them.
“When he was 10 years old, he said, ‘I’m going to be a Marine first and a trooper second,’” said his father, George Wing.
George and his wife raised Jason and his sister in Winthrop, an Augusta suburb, where they lived for most of his school-age years. The couple are now split up, although they never officially divorced.
George would often work long hours at an egg-processing plant, but he didn’t have to worry about his son, he said. Jason followed the rules more than most. He always did well in school and rarely, if ever, needed to be disciplined. The teenager was self-possessed beyond his years, a fact that Jason’s peers recognized and respected, his father said.
So when George was offered a job in Lewiston at an agricultural plant, Jason transferred from Winthrop High School to Lewiston High School, where he graduated in 2003.
As a Marine infantryman, Jason served two tours in Iraq. He fought in battles in Fallujah and Ramadi. For at least part of his tours, he was assigned to a specialized anti-terrorism squad, his father said.
When Jason returned stateside, he began his career in law enforcement. In 2008 he was assigned to Troop B, patrolling parts of Androscoggin, Cumberland and Oxford counties.
He was on duty in June 2008 when 51-year-old Lawrence LaPointe of Mexico, in Oxford County, threatened to kill his domestic partner and attempted to flee as police tried to arrest him. Jason, armed with a rifle, fired into the windshield of LaPointe’s advancing pickup truck. No one was injured, LaPointe was arrested, and Wing was found justified by the Maine Attorney General’s Office in his use of deadly force.
Three years later, in 2011, Wing would return overseas, this time to Afghanistan, where he was assigned to train Afghan national police and military units.
“Marines thrive on living in the most austere conditions possible,” he told Lewiston’s Sun Journal newspaper before he shipped out to the rugged, war-torn country.
George is proud of his son’s service, although he said the young man will not advertise what he’s seen and done.
“The kid is a remarkable kid,” George said. “He’s a very humble person.”
Jason Wing declined to be interviewed for this story. When reached at his Rumford home, he told a reporter to leave his property and called a state police supervisor, Sgt. Kyle Tilsley, who threatened to have the reporter cited for criminal trespassing. Through a Maine State Police spokesman, Wing declined a second request after the investigation into the shooting of James Reynolds was completed.
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Jason Wing’s father is not the only one to sing the young trooper’s praises.
His personnel file contains several thankful missives for professionalism and service. Virtually all were penned by fellow law enforcement officers – except for one.
The terse email to Wing and his commanding officer, dated Jan. 17, 2010, passed on the gratitude of a man who had interacted with Wing the previous day. The caller said Wing treated him “like a human being.”
He was Richard Bean, a 23-year Army veteran. Bean, of East Dixfield, fought in Vietnam and the first Iraq war as an Army engineer. Although he retired from the Army in 1999, there are still images from combat he can’t forget.
In Vietnam, a soldier in the tent next to Bean’s loaded a revolver with a single cartridge, spun the chamber, and shot himself in the head. During Operation Desert Storm in 1991, Bean watched as an explosion ripped apart and killed seven members of his engineer unit.
He was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder and received treatment after his discharge, but 11 years later, in 2010, he was slipping. A regimen of medication prescribed long ago no longer quelled his flashbacks. He turned to alcohol, drinking steadily for days, often starting early in the morning without eating until he finished that day’s 30-pack, always Bud Light.
“I’d have coffee first,” Bean said. “Then I’d crack a beer.”
In January 2010, following a weeklong bender, Bean had an argument with his wife and, feeling overwhelmed, called a crisis hot line for veterans. He knew he was suffering. He said he wanted to kill himself.
A state trooper happened to be in the area that night and responded.
It was Wing.
“First thing he did was put his hand on my shoulder, ask me what my name was, and what I liked to be called,” said Bean, who goes by Rick. “He said, ‘My name’s Jason Wing. I’m a veteran. I was in the Marines. I’ve never gone through what you’re going through, but I’ve seen a lot of people who go through that,’” Bean recalled.
Surrounded by Bean’s family, the two men sat around a kitchen table. The Dixfield police officers who were also there packed up and left. For nearly an hour, the two servicemen talked.
“It’s different when you’re around another veteran,” Bean said. “He was really courteous. He didn’t raise hell or nothing. He sat down and talked to me decent.”
Quietly, Wing persuaded Bean to go to the hospital.
“He wanted me to get help,” Bean said. “That’s what he was concerned about.”
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That James Reynolds had little interest in school was hardly a secret.
Some mornings on his way to work, Oxford Middle School Principal Troy Eastman would drive past the two homes where Reynolds split his time, wondering whether the quiet, misunderstood boy would be outside waiting for the bus to school.
Many days, he wasn’t there.
Eastman, who dealt with truancy, quickly got to know James, who attended the school until 2009.
Traditional classrooms were not designed for someone like him, who was too quiet and timid to seek the attention he needed.
Eastman said James excelled in one-on-one sessions with an adult, but that type of help was hard to come by. In the crucible of middle school social circles, James struggled for a toehold. Socializing was difficult for him. He was a big kid for his age, and the intimidating stature did not square with his passive nature. James was teased mercilessly, his mother said. Kids called him names or, worse, shunned him altogether.
“Is it because he’s not showing up for school that he didn’t have a large peer group,” or the other way around, Eastman wondered. “When you have inconsistent attendance, it’s kind of hard to establish who you are. I think he was pretty isolated.”
On those mornings when there was no sign of James outside his home, Eastman would pick up the phone, trying to get a reaction from him.
“He knew I was interested in what he was doing,” Eastman said. “You do your best to get kids to school and then give them the best educational day you can.”
By the time he reached Oxford Hills Comprehensive High School, James was not long for the classroom. Without many friends and still the subject of “torture” from his peers, he decided to quit school for good in 2009, the same year his grandfather died, Julie Reynolds said.
At first, his mother noticed odd behavior and then, slowly, the signs of a more serious underlying condition.
The family sought medical care, but an accurate diagnosis proved elusive. Julie rattled off a list of afflictions and medications: Anxiety disorder. Depression. Attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder. Extreme anxiety disorder. Schizophrenia. Bipolar disorder. Depakote. Zyprexa. Seroquel. Topamax. Keppra. Ativan. Some of the pills flattened his personality. Others made him gain weight.
Julie recognized the cycle. A course of treatment would work until James suffered another episode, which landed him in the hospital, which led to another diagnosis. Around and around they went. Psychosis. Hospitalization. Medication. Psychosis.
Lloyd Waterhouse, the family’s longtime pastor, said he watched as the teenager suffered in silence, deprived of the love and acceptance he craved.
“His eyes really looked at me. It was almost like he wanted you to be his friend,” Waterhouse said. “His eyes were not hard eyes. They were soft eyes, almost like he was begging for something, you know? Wanting you to give him something that would help him. I know he wanted to change, but I don’t know if he could or not.”
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James Reynolds also started to act out in more traditional teenage ways – drinking alcohol, smoking marijuana and rebelling against his mother, with whom he fought frequently.
Unshackled from the schedule of a school day, Reynolds was free to traverse the rural, wooded area around his home unsupervised, sometimes making mischief with a few on-again, off-again acquaintances, stealing alcohol, smoking cigarettes and building campfires. His walks through the neighborhood would sometimes lead him near Roy Road and a network of snowmobile trails there.
The dirt road is dotted by secluded homes that hug a hillside, and according to neighbors, Roy Road residents were the frequent target of burglaries.
Charles Coughlin, of Franklin, Mass., who owns a camp nearby on Roy Road, said his home was broken into five times in recent years, although it was unclear if arrests were made in any of the cases.
James and another boy were responsible for one of the break-ins at Coughlin’s cabin, his mother said. She said the teens stole bottles of alcohol and a .35-caliber rifle, getting drunk before the police eventually brought James home. Julie, careful to keep her son out of court, took responsibility for the monetary damages. The rifle was later recovered and returned.
It was not the only time the family interacted with law enforcement.
Police had repeatedly visited the two addresses on Sumner Road where the Reynolds family lived, according to police records, including for multiple instances of “juvenile problems,” according to dispatch records. Julie would call police to get James under control, she said.
His birthday every March remains a trigger for outbursts.
In March 2012, two days after he turned 17, James entered a deep psychosis. He saw Elvis Presley everywhere. As Julie prepared to take him to the hospital, James fled. He jumped behind the wheel of a running car and sped off. He stopped at a convenience store and stole a 12-pack of beer, drove 20 miles, and crashed into a ditch.
Charles Young, 28, of Norway, who lives nearby, said he heard the impact and found James near the busted Pontiac, ready to bolt.
Young told him to stay put, and that if James didn’t call the police, Young would do it for him.
“It was hitting him,” Young said. “He called his grandma after he called the cops and said, ‘I’m going to jail. I done a stupid thing.’”
When a Norway police officer arrived, the car’s motor was still running and James was seated behind the wheel smoking a cigarette, an extra one tucked behind an ear, according to a police report.
“I stole my grandmother’s car, and I’m drunk. I need to go to jail. I’m going to kill myself,” he told an officer, according to the report . “I’m going to kill everyone.”
Five months later, James was hospitalized again, then placed in a group home in Lewiston. He fled the facility and slept in a public park for a night, triggering a police search.
This past March, James turned 18. He, his mother and grandmother were in the car on their way to buy him a guitar at a Lewiston pawn shop, when the teenager again began to disassociate. He became angry and confused.
He got out of the car and began walking along a roadway in South Paris. Julie called police, who stopped him, but he wasn’t breaking any laws. James kept walking. He entered a fast food restaurant and stole two tacos from the counter. When police arrested him for the theft and hospitalized him, James was lost in his own mind.
“He didn’t know me or my mother,” Julie said. “He thought we were going to hurt him.”
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About 4 p.m. Saturday, June 8, the day of the shooting, Julie Reynolds arrived home from work to find James exactly where he had been for weeks: alone in his room with the lights off, suffering the side effects of a recent change in his medication. He was isolating himself more than usual and had been seeking pills, she told investigators. He hadn’t showered for three days.
Julie kept his medicine with her, fearful of another suicide attempt. About 5 p.m., James asked her to let him take his evening dose, but it was an hour too early and he needed to eat first.
When she confronted him about his hygiene, James said he “hated living this way.”
Julie rolled him some cigarettes, and he disappeared into his room.
When she returned a few minutes later, he was already gone.
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Shortly before 5:15 p.m., wearing a backpack and carrying his grandfather’s walking stick, James Reynolds walked into the brush across from his grandmother’s home, followed a snowmobile trail and turned onto Roy Road.
He had been gone for about an hour before he was spotted.
At 6:11 p.m., a Roy Road resident called police to report a suspicious person.
“There’s been some break-ins up here,” the caller told a dispatcher, according to records released by the Attorney General’s Office. “He’s not supposed to be on this road.”
Wing, working an overtime shift that day, got the call and, about 10 minutes later, pointed his state police cruiser up the long, muddy hill.
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At 6:31 p.m., Wing radioed a dispatcher, saying that he recognized the name James Reynolds and had had an encounter with the teenager in October 2012, when Reynolds fled from the group home in Lewiston, according to documents provided by the Maine Attorney General’s Office.
At 6:32, Reynolds’ mother reported him missing. Around this time Wing learned of Reynolds’ mental health status and that he was in crisis, according to investigators.
At 6:38, Wing’s cruiser stopped near the driveway to the seasonal home owned by Coughlin.
“I do see where this kid has been walking,” Wing radioed to dispatch. “We’re going to need to track him down.”
Reynolds’ exact footsteps after he left his home are unclear. What authorities allege, however, is that Reynolds made his way to Coughlin’s home and broke in. Photos from the scene released by authorities show one pane of a picture window smashed. Inside, James allegedly took a .35-caliber, lever-action Marlin hunting rifle and three rounds of ammunition. He took three cans of Bud Light from Coughlin’s refrigerator and stuffed them in his backpack, police allege. Then he walked away.
About 6:38 p.m., Wing, in his cruiser, was on his cellphone requesting a tracking dog when a figure appeared from behind a wooden shed that stood a few feet from the edge of the road. The blurry silhouette was captured by a video camera mounted on the cruiser’s dashboard, appearing and quickly receding.
Their encounter would last a few short seconds.
Wing pulled the car forward a few feet and exited the cruiser. Then, according to the attorney general’s report, he saw Reynolds reappear on the right edge of the shed, holding objects in both hands. Wing twice commanded him to drop what he had in his hands. Reynolds responded with a vulgarity, according to the trooper, and turned to show he had the rifle “scooped underneath his left arm.”
Wing unholstered his weapon and scrambled behind his cruiser, out of view of the dashboard camera. With the handgun trained on Reynolds he again ordered him to drop the rifle, according to the attorney general’s report.
Reynolds responded again: “(Expletive) you.”
Reynolds leveled the weapon at Wing, according to the trooper.
“I thought he was going to shoot me,” Wing later told investigators.
Wing fired his .45-caliber Hechler & Koch state-issued handgun three times.
At 6:40 p.m., Wing radioed dispatch: Shots fired.
From his Marine Corps training, Wing said he recognized Reynolds had taken an “ambush position,” the trooper said in an interview with authorities, a summary of which was provided to the Maine Sunday Telegram.
“Everything that’s going on across the country the first thing that flashed in my head, ‘Oh (expletive), I’m in an ambush position,’” Wing said. “I’m dead.”
Only later would the trooper and investigators learn the rifle was unloaded and secured with a cable lock, its lever rendered inoperable, unable to fire a shot.
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When Julie Reynolds arrived at Central Maine Medical Center in Lewiston, James was already being prepared for brain surgery.
One of Wing’s rounds had struck him in the top of the head. The hollow-point bullet, designed to peel back and fan open, plowed through a portion of his skull, plunging bone fragments deep into his brain.
Another round passed through James’ left forearm, shattered one of his bones and passed cleanly out the other side. The third bullet lodged behind the teenager’s knee.
Against bad odds, James clung to life. Doctors reconstructed his arm and removed the slug from his leg. A neurosurgeon carefully removed some of the bits of skull and damaged brain matter from his head.
Since he woke up some time later from a medically induced coma, James has struggled with his injuries.
After 70 days in rehabilitation, he can walk, talk and perform simple tasks. Julie quit her job to stay home with him. She is trying to find a rehabilitation and treatment program that can address both his brain injury and mental illness, but few programs are available, and none are close to their home.
Julie still grapples with how and why her son was shot, and doubts that he would threaten an officer, let alone point a gun at one. Since he was a child, Julie taught him not to be violent, and in past experiences, he listened, she said.
“He runs,” she said. “He’s never been in a fight. He always does the opposite. I always told him, ‘Let it go. Don’t fight back.’ And that’s how he was.”
The trajectory of the head wound is most troubling to her, she said. Doctors explained the bullet entered through the back of his skull, driving the shards of bullet and bone forward and down through his right frontal lobe, she said – an account verified by medical records.
The attorney general’s report, which determined that the shooting was justified, does not specify the precise entry points or the wounding patterns. Investigators in the case were barred from interviewing James by his attorney, and did not have access to his medical records, relying instead on testimony from police officers who administered first aid on the scene.
Now, though, Julie’s questions about his injuries are the least of her worries, as she struggles each day for the family’s survival.
Before James returned home, Julie bought a used trailer, and James for the first time has a room with a door and a rented bed with a headboard. But Julie, unable to work, is having trouble keeping up on the payments. She is saving up money to have her water line connected. o o o
In the living room, mother and son sit in matching chairs, some of the only furniture in the home. Each smoked a cigarette.
“James has had a multitude of people who let him down, including me,” Julie said. “We didn’t recognize (the mental illness) until it was too late.”
Julie said she tries to keep her spirits up, but West Paris doesn’t feel much like home anymore. People talk about her and James, and they seem to have little empathy for them now, she said.
After the traumatic brain injury, her son’s personality is still emerging, she said. After more than a month without physical or occupational therapy, though, James has begun to backslide. He is plagued by headaches. His vision and hearing are declining. He can’t button his shirt, or his pants, and is more forgetful now, unable to be left alone during the day.
The family recently learned that authorities are pressing charges against him for burglary, theft of a gun and criminal threatening. Julie has not told her son that he will have to go to court. She is scared of how he will react, hoping his mental status could avert prosecution. James is scheduled to appear Thursday at Oxford County Superior Court in South Paris.
In an interview in October at the office of Ben Gideon, of Portland firm Berman & Simmons, James said he cannot remember what happened to him that evening in June on Roy Road.
Julie, however, relives the shooting every day, trying to understand what her son cannot recall.
“I think he was going to hurt himself. He knew that was a place he could get a gun,” she said. “I can’t blame him for wanting to die. He was so alone.”
For now, she said, she is trying to find him treatment before he slips further into the imaginary world he has constructed in his mind.
In his thoughts, James believes he is a famous guitarist with countless friends. In his mind, he is never alone. His grandfather is alive there, and he is happy.
“This world is a sucky world, he thinks,” Julie said. “My personal fear is I will lose him to that other world.”
As she speaks, her son sits nearby, his toe tapping nervously. A stub of a cigarette still smolders between his fingers. He fiddles with a rented iPad.
Asked about his grandfather, James responds in a soft but earnest voice. He talked to “Grampers” this morning, James said.
“I see my grandfather every day,” he said. “He says, ‘You’re my son, Bub.’”
Staff Writer Matt Byrne can be contacted at 791-6303, or at: