December 8, 2013

Gunshots fired in West Paris changed lives

When troubled Maine teen James Reynolds and respected trooper Jason Wing crossed paths last June, three .45-caliber bullets tore through the air – and tied their fates to an unsettling trend.

By Matt Byrne
Staff Writer

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.

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The scene where Maine State Trooper Jason Wing confronted an armed 18-year-old James Reynolds on Roy Road in West Paris last June.

Amelia Kunhardt/Staff Photographer

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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.

(Continued on page 2)

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Additional Photos

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James Reynolds, shown in Portland on Oct. 14, four months after he was shot.

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Maine State Tooper Jason Wing

Courtesy Maine State Police

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Eighteen-year-old James Reynolds and his mother, Julie, pose at their West Paris home in mid-October, four months after he was shot three times in a confrontation with Maine State Trooper Jason Wing. Julie says she relives the shooting every day, trying to understand what happened. “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.”

Amelia Kunhardt/Staff Photographer

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Julie and her son James live in this mobile home in West Paris. Growing up, James Reynolds spent much of his time next door, at the home of his grandparents. His grandfather, Daniel Paine Sr., who became a father figure to the boy, died in 2009. “James had a hard time with that,” says the family’s longtime pastor.

Amelia Kunhardt/Staff Photographer

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Lloyd Waterhouse, pastor of the Grace Fellowhip Church in Oxford, has known the Reynolds family for many years. “His eyes were not hard eyes,” Waterhouse says of James Reynolds. “I know he wanted to change, but I don’t know if he could or not.”

Amelia Kunhardt/Staff Photographer

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East Dixfield resident Rick Bean, an Army veteran diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder, said Maine State Trooper Jason Wing helped him get through a suicidal episode in 2010. “(Wing) wanted me to get help. That’s what he was concerned about,” said Bean, who is photographed here at his home last summer. His comments are included in Wing’s personnel file, which is heaped with praise from fellow officers.

Amelia Kunhardt/Staff Photographer

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Police investigators say James Reynolds stole this .35-caliber, lever-action Marlin hunting rifle and pointed it at Trooper Jason Wing in a confrontation last June. Only after the shooting did police learn that the rifle was unloaded and the lever was secured with a cable lock.

Photo courtesy Maine Attorney General’s Office