Updated 9:50 p.m.
DEXTER — Amy Lake clearly feared her estranged husband. He was awaiting trial for holding the family at gunpoint, and he was barred from seeing her or their two children. She was in the process of divorcing him. A neighbor said police drove by every day to check on her.
Yet, even though Amy Lake was careful and took precautions, her efforts failed.
Her husband, Steven Lake, killed the 38-year-old kindergarten teacher and the couple’s two children, 12-year-old Monica and 13-year-old Cote, today, police said. Then he took his own life with the same shotgun he used on his family in the living room of their tidy house.
Police said Amy Lake tried hard to protect herself.
“She took the appropriate court action. Her co-workers were aware of her situation, and one of them reported (Steven Lake’s) vehicle in the driveway,” said Stephen McCausland, spokesman for the Maine Department of Public Safety. “It is frustrating when someone has taken the appropriate steps and we still end up with a despicable act of domestic violence.”
Investigators said after today’s killings that they couldn’t say for sure what pushed Steven Lake over the edge, but a relative told The Associated Press that Lake was frustrated by an ongoing custody dispute and particularly upset at having to miss his son’s eighth-grade graduation.
In addition to killing his family, Lake poured a flammable liquid around the home, but the liquid didn’t ignite, investigators said.
A Dexter police officer went to check on Amy Lake at 8 a.m. today at her two-story red clapboard home on the north shore of Lake Wassookeag when she didn’t show up for work and when Steven Lake’s car was spotted in her driveway. The officer heard multiple gunshots after pulling into the driveway and called for help.
State and local police and deputies from several sheriff departments surrounded the house and attempted to make contact by phone and through a public address system. Police never reached anyone inside and didn’t know whether anyone was alive.
Around 2 p.m., a state police armored vehicle with a battering ram moved in on the house, and officers discovered the bodies in the living room. Some of the victims had been shot multiple times, according to the state medical examiner’s office.
Steven Lake was awaiting trial for allegedly holding his family hostage last year in Wellington, where he most recently lived, said Maine State Police Maj. Gary Wright. He was free on bail but was barred from contacting his family.
Wright said investigators “may never ever know” what pushed Lake over the edge.
Steven and Amy Lake would have been married 16 years in July.
But Mylon Lake, of Harmony, told the AP that Steven Lake was his nephew and had been angry over a child custody dispute. Steven and Amy Lake at one time had shared custody, but Steven Lake had recently lost his right to see the children and was particularly upset about the graduation ceremony, he said.
“You push buttons enough, and everything’s going to come to a head,” he said.
Hours after the grisly discovery, tearful residents gathered in a downtown park for a vigil. The Rev. Will Walters, pastor of New Hope Baptist Church, acknowledged the community’s anger and said the state needs “a better system to protect people.”
“This should not happen,” Walter said as a light drizzle fell. “We should make sure things like this never again happen to our women.”
Residents admired and respected Amy Lake, who taught at the same school attended by her children.
“It’s a huge loss for the school, for the kids. She was so well-loved by everybody,” said Melissa Gudroe of Dexter, whose daughter was one Amy Lake’s students.
Rebecca Dyment of Corinna said “there’s going to be a hole in everybody’s heart.”
“It’s a very sad day for the community and also the surrounding towns because they were very loved,” she said. “It’s so heart-breaking.”
Steven Lake at one time owned his own heating company in Harmony, but most recently worked for another company, Mylon Lake said.
Neighbor Phil Kreider said local police officers had been checking on Amy Lake every day because she had a restraining order on her husband.
“I can’t imagine anything like this happening here, and here it is,” Kreider said.
A person who answered the telephone at home of Amy Lake’s parents said the family had no comment.
Dexter, with a population of nearly 3,800, was known for years as the home of Dexter Shoe Co., which Harold Alfond created out of a vacant woolen mill in the 1950s. Dexter ceased its operations in Maine about a decade ago, and the shoes are now made overseas.