BIDDEFORD — Two days before they died, Shawnia Maffiola and Ricky Martello stopped by to grab some food for the weekend from Seeds of Hope, a daytime drop-in center that helps homeless people.

Shawnia Maffiola

They were gracious on that Friday visit, said assistant director Vassie Fowler, who said the pair had been coming in sporadically over her first seven months on the job. But over the last week of their lives, Fowler said, they stopped by almost every day.

“She just was the bubbliest, the cutest,” Fowler said. “He was more of a quiet type. Very reserved.”

On Sunday, Maffiola, 23, and Martello, 24, lay down on a stretch of train tracks near Main Street, and were struck and killed by a northbound Amtrak Downeaster train.

Police confirmed Wednesday that they had died by suicide.

The news came as a great shock to many, including John Patenaude and Peggy Nelsen, the two people who raised Maffiola for most of her life.


Sitting side by side at their round kitchen table in Scarborough, about a dozen miles from where Maffiola died, Patenaude and Nelsen swiped through old photos of her on a cellphone.

Richard Martello Facebook photo

In one image, Maffiola was standing outside in a long, white gown, smiling beside her prom date. In another, she was much younger, wearing face paint for Halloween. They looked at many photos of Maffiola and her two younger siblings, sitting in the back of a pickup truck, giggling on fair rides, wearing coordinated outfits and grinning over ice cream cones.

Maffiola came to Maine when she was about 1 year old and her biological mother and Patenaude were partners. When her mother died, years after her biological father’s death, Patenaude got legal custody. Nelsen became Maffiola’s stepmother when she was about 6 – and Patenaude and Nelsen then had two children.

Maffiola had many other siblings in Indiana and Massachusetts, Patenaude and Nelsen said, from her biological family.

Martello, her half-brother, was living in Indiana.

Maffiola’s friends and family say she brought him to Maine, to help him kick an addiction to heroin. But then she began using herself.



“It just goes to show addiction can get ahold of anybody,” Patenaude said. “You have a perfectly good, nice young lady who grows up in a very nice neighborhood. Nice home, As and Bs student. All of a sudden, she’s addicted.”

“We’re not the only family this is going to happen to,” Nelsen said.

“No, we’re not,” Patenaude said. “And we won’t be the last, unfortunately.”

Shawnia Maffiola Photo courtesy of John Patenaude and Peggy Nelsen

Growing up, Maffiola was a “mother hen” to the younger kids, said Nelsen. As a girl, she insisted on decorating her family’s home with streamers and balloons for every party and gathering. She loved helping take care of the family’s racehorses – cleaning the stalls, brushing, feeding – and she loved helping Patenaude work on his race car.

“She’d hand me tools,” Patenaude said, chuckling. “She’d sit behind the wheel and stuff. As a little kid, she just loved it.”


She made and kept many friends, her family said.

Kellie Ellis, who met Maffiola when she was 7, said she was an outgoing girl who loved to talk and take walks outside.

Ellis, who was about 6 years older, lived in Old Orchard Beach at the time. The two would walk and talk on the beach, and Maffiola would braid friendship bracelets. Ellis said Maffiola would sometimes play music from a CD of her biological mother’s favorite songs.

Maffiola and Ellis kept in touch over Facebook until the last couple of years.

“She had a very hard life,” Ellis said. “I feel like I know she went down a dark path.”

Michael Masterman and Shania St. Onge said they were friends with Maffiola and Martello in Biddeford.


Masterman said he met Maffiola when she was working at the 7-11.

Her parents said she’d had an apartment in Biddeford. But things got harder for her a couple of years ago, Masterman said, when she lost her job and her apartment.

Still, Masterman described her as “happy-go-lucky.” She loved to draw, he said, and her art would reflect her mood.


“Always smiling, always bubbly,” Masterman said. “Always took time for people when they needed it.”

Masterman and St. Onge said they learned it was Maffiola and Martello who died on the train tracks when police stopped by their small encampment, where Maffiola and Martello would set up their tent for the night.


They said they’d seen them on the day they died, at a breakfast provided by a church. Masterman said Martello had spoken of wanting to kill himself.

“They cried out for help,” Masterman said. “But nobody knew.”

St. Onge said Maffiola and Martello were exploring options for recovery, but she said the shortage of options in the area can be discouraging.

“The life of addiction is really hard,” St. Onge said. She said she and Masterman also are trying to get into a recovery program.

“If there were more resources out there for people,” she said, “it would make a safer place for people.”

Patenaude and Nelsen said Maffiola had called them a couple of weeks before she died, asking for help.


“Our plan was to go get her, bring her back home and go from there,” Patenaude said. “Reach out to places, to get her the help she needed. … But she said, ‘No, don’t come get me, I’ve got to wait until tomorrow.’ And we didn’t hear from her again.”

Fowler, of Seeds of Hope, said that she has been angry as she has watched the story of what happened on the train tracks on the news.

“I was angry that the story was about trespassing, and the story was about inconveniencing 80 people for 90 minutes,” Fowler said. “That’s not the story. The story is that two very young, very vibrant individuals are gone because they felt they had no other place to go.”


She and the Rev. Shirley Bowen, Seeds of Hope’s executive director, said Thursday that the people they help experience isolation and feel ignored by the greater Biddeford community.

“A good number of the community don’t see the folks that we serve,” Bowen said. “There’s isolation when you’re in a community and people just walk right by you and don’t look you in the eye or acknowledge you.”


Bowen is on a local homelessness task force. The group works to destigmatize homelessness, but also to encourage more housing assistance in the area.

“You have to take care of the basics first,” Bowen said. “People need a roof over their heads. They need a support system in place. If they need substance use treatment or mental health assistance, whatever it is – if you give someone housing and you give them support, they can break the cycle.”

Bowen and Fowler said they hope reading the story of Maffiola and Martello will encourage more people to volunteer with organizations helping homeless people and to treat people they see, unsheltered on the streets, with dignity, to let them know they are seen.

“It’s not a story people want to hear. But that’s the problem,” Fowler said. “People have to hear the story. Homelessness is a real problem in our community. Substance use and mental health disorders are real problems in our community. We have to start looking at those and thinking about how we’re going to help, what we’re going to do. And that’s a community-wide endeavor. It can’t just be the few.”

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