James F. Popkowski, the man shot and killed during a confrontation with police Thursday, was remembered as a proud and respectful person by fellow residents of Medway, the town where he was born and raised.

There, the former Marine affectionately known as “Bing” was the one always willing to help a friend, who addressed his elders as “sir,” and who loved his country and his community.

“I’ve known Bing since he was in high school,” said Medway Selectman Jeff Jandreau, moments after learning Popkowski was armed when shot by police Thursday in the woods outside Togus Veterans Affairs hospital.

“To hear what you just said is completely out of character with the Bing Popkowski I know. To hear that this has happened, he must have been driven by something more than he could handle.”

That something, Jandreau believes, may have been the physical pain and depression resulting from the cancer treatment Popkowski underwent in 2003.

Jandreau recalled a benefit bone marrow drive held for Popkowski in September 2003 in Medway — a Penobscot County community of 1,400 people 60 miles north of Bangor.


Published reports indicate Popkowski, 37, was a 1990 graduate of Schenck High School in East Millinocket and a first lieutenant while in the U.S. Marine Corps.

He was treated for a rare and aggressive cancer called hepatosplenic gamma-delta T-cell lymphoma. His treatment involved stem cell transfers, which eventually led to graft versus host disease.

“There were times he felt OK, but other times he got feeling bad physically,” Jandreau said. “He would disappear for a few weeks, then he’d be back in Medway and be the same old Bing.”

Popkowski offered insight into his struggle in anguished comments written on the NewScientist website in response to a story detailing the side effects of stem cell transplants.

The lengthy blog, posted in August 2008 by an individual identifying himself as James F. Popkowski — a 15-year Marine who received a stem cell transplant from a sister at the National Institutes of Health Clinical Center in Bethesda, Md., in 2003 — describes a battle against chronic pain and depression that had robbed him of enjoyment in life.

“Suicide is like a little devil, always on my shoulder and always tempting me,” he wrote. “Concern for the care of my three dogs after I am gone, my dogs being the only things I feel anything resembling passion for, is the only thing I think that has kept me from pulling the trigger on the loaded pistol, which rests next to my pillow.”


Police removed two malamutes from the back of Popkowski’s truck after the shooting. The dogs, which were in good health, were taken to a shelter.

Popkowski was known for raising beautiful, well-behaved malamute dogs, Jandreau said.

“He took good care of them,” Jandreau said.

Popkowski, who said he shared his experience on the NewScientist site in hopes it would help researchers and other recipients, said he had almost no movement in his ankles or wrists. He said he also suffered from a sleep disorder and severe depression.

“The best way to describe the mental and emotional issue is that I am numb passionless,” Popkowski wrote. “Nothing brings joy or pleasure. I graduated magna cum laude with a (Bachelor of Science) in computer info systems and business management in just three years. Now, I cannot mentally focus enough to read a newspaper.”

Doctors treated the graft versus host disease with prednisone — which helped, but the side effects ultimately led Popkowski to need a hip replacement.


“I have lost count of the number of sleep aids NIH and my local VA have tried,” Popkowski wrote. “Like the anti-depressants, none have worked.”

Popkowski said his time in the Marine Corps left him stoic — he was on active duty when diagnosed with cancer — but he attributed the depression to his illness.

“For weeks at a time I will only leave my house once, and only briefly at night, to buy groceries and other supplies,” Popkowski wrote. “Most of the time, the only time I drag myself into the shower, is when I have to go into town to buy groceries.”

Popkowski lived in a trailer on the banks of the Penobscot River just outside of town. His home on the same spot burned down a few years ago, Jandreau said. Family members, including Popkowski’s parents, still live in the area.

Jandreau said he saw Popkowski about a month ago.

“He was fine,” Jandreau said.


Jandreau recalled an average-sized teenager who went away to the service and came back a few years later “spit-polished” and “bulked up”.

“He said, ‘Hello Mr. Jandreau, how are you?’” Jandreau said. “I didn’t recognize him. He would have made a great Marines poster.”

An average boy who accomplished big things — that’s how Jandreau will remember Bing.

The man who confronted police with a weapon was a stranger.

“Bing was a man that loved his country, he loved his community and he loved his friends,” Jandreau said, his voice breaking with emotion. “And if you needed anything, he was the guy.”


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