Drowning victim is seen as a talented man struggling with drug addiction and mental illness

There was little Justin Howard couldn’t do. If, by chance, he didn’t know how to accomplish something, he researched and watched YouTube videos until he figured it out.

Justin Howard is shown in an undated photo. Photo courtesy of Amanda Howard

He was a talented artist who could draw or sketch most scenes or portraits he encountered. Years ago he was a tattoo artist.

“He was such a smart man. Probably too smart if you ask me,” his partner, Amanda Howard, said in an email. “He struggled with addiction most of his life and took a lot of bad decisions as a result, but that didn’t define who he was. He would give the shirt off his back to the people he cared about.

Amanda Howard’s account of Justin Howard came days after his body was discovered on May 22 in the Sebasticook River in Benton and is the first explanation of his life since he was last seen entering in the Sebasticook in Clinton on March 28.

Authorities at the time Howard, 36, was missing released little information about him, including what prompted him to enter the water. The state medical examiner’s office confirmed that the cause of death was drowning.

Amanda Howard spoke via email last week about Justin’s talents and interests, as well as the addiction and demons that dogged him before his death. The two were married but divorced, although they reconciled at the time of his death and lived together in Waterville.

Justin, or Jay as his friends called him, graduated in 2004 from Lawrence High School. The couple had been married for seven years and had two sons together, Jaidyn, 10, and Deakyn, 7. Justin also has a 14-year-old daughter named Kierra, a 16-year-old stepdaughter named Skylar, and a son who turns 2 named Kashious.

“He loved his children more than anything, but sometimes his demons kept him from being able to be a father, but it gnawed at him every day,” she said.

Justin suffered from bipolar disorder and was not taking medication to treat it, she said.

“I think he wouldn’t let the meds take over like they did if he got his bipolar disorder under control,” she said.

She said Justin was not close to his family, despite their efforts to be there for him, mainly because his addiction caused him to push them away.

“He was the love of my life. He was my absolute best friend. Even when we were apart, he always knew he could come to me if he needed anything,” Howard said.

“I think he believed he didn’t deserve to be loved, no matter how hard I tried to convince him otherwise,” she said. “He has a lot of people who love him, and it breaks my heart that he died believing no one loved him.”

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