If you are experiencing a mental health crisis, call the Maine Crisis Hotline at 888-568-1112.
PRESQUE ISLE, Maine – Jacob Poitraw asked for help to fight his mental illness for many years, but lost his fight on Sunday after being shot dead by police.
Poitraw’s mother, Renee Duart, recalled her son on Thursday as a regular child who wanted to help anyone in need.
Poitraw, a 25-year-old law enforcement officer, was searched on Sunday after threatening people with a rifle. He threatened police, chased them, struck a cruiser several times and then shot him, according to Presque Isle police chief Laurie Kelly. He had a history of robbery and violation of parole and was in prison.
Duart said COVID-19’s health care system could not provide the long-term support it needed for its son. It’s a well-known story. Across Maine, hospitals reached capacity early in the pandemic, and the stress hit health workers and many others. Even with the shortage of hospital staff, people with mental and behavioral crises were placed on waiting lists and kept in emergency rooms because there was no other place.
Mental health was named the top priority for Aroostook County in the 2022 Maine Community Health Needs Assessment Report. Contributors to the report cited a lack of available providers, use of the mental health emergency department, long waiting lists, and numerous youth suicide attempts in the County.
The National Alliance for Mental Illness reported in 2021 that 223,000 adults in Maine had mental health. Of the 37.5 percent of Mainers who reported depression in February 2021, 13 percent were unable to receive the care they needed, according to the alliance.
Society was concerned about Poitraw and even though he saw him as someone who had been imprisoned several times, his mother said he was a kind soul who sought help in the fight against mental illness.
It took her son a year or two to receive long-term treatment in a hospital, Duarte said.
“I’ve been fighting for over two years now. I called everyone there. I begged the system: ‘Please do something. My son will die if you don’t do something, ” Duart said.
Originally from Presque Island, Duarte lives in Hyde Park, Vermont. Poitraw, who was on the island almost, died the night before. He spoke to the Presque Island Police Department several times to help his son, including on Sunday.
Police told him they had been called by Poitraw and asked to come around for the alleged firearm incident.
Duarte was working with police to bring him in, he said. She described her son committing suicide because he lost two family members within a year.
His brother Thomas Poitraw Jr. died last year on June 2 as a result of an unexpected overdose due to chronic depression and addiction. The brothers ’father, Thomas Poitraw Sr., died on September 19, 2021.
“I didn’t want to get hurt. I didn’t want to hurt any of the police, “he said. “He always told them he would take her, but he never had a gun.”
Duart said as a child his son played with cars and enjoyed going to school. As a teenager, he committed a number of illnesses and began battling mental illness, including depression. Eventually he received some advice.
The problem was that no one could pay enough attention to his depression and suicidal thoughts. Each doctor and specialist had an opinion and tried different medications that interacted with each other, Duarte said. Soon after, Jacob resorted to illegal drugs to heal himself.
He and his relatives went to Aroostook Mental Health Services and Acadia Hospital for treatment for the past three years, but largely due to COVID-19 closures and delays, waiting lists were long.
Poitraw tried to commit suicide several times in the past year, his mother said. Four of them were with life support. He was going to recover, and he said the facility would release him. At one time, medical assessments ruled her disabled and she spent several weeks in Dorothea Dix in Bangor, but in addition, she did not receive long-term treatment.
“People with mental illness don’t want to be sick. And Jacob would try to be better. He knew he was sick, but he didn’t want to go to the hospital, ”said his mother.
Poitraw’s obituary reflected his struggle: “The family is witnessing how Jacob struggled every day to overcome his mental illness. In recent years, and especially in the last months and weeks of his life, he has been asking for mental health care from providers and agencies and has been denied services. “
Poitraw started a turning point when he got an apartment and a job, according to the obituary. He, too, had begun attending church and was trying to reconcile relationships with loved ones.
Duart said he has a wide network of his daughter and family and friends around for help. Poitraw finds comfort in knowing who the person was.
“Even as a result of Jacob’s addiction and mental illness, you could see Jacob bringing food, water bottles, blankets and jackets to the homeless. That was his kind of person, even in his addiction. ‘