DEXTER — A man from the rural town of Wellington shot and killed his estranged wife and the couple’s two children Monday morning at the woman’s home in Dexter, then shot and killed himself, state police said.

Amy Lake, a 38-year-old schoolteacher, and her children, Monica, 12, and Coty, 13, died of gunshot wounds, said Maj. Gary Wright, head of the Maine State Police Criminal Division. They were shot by Steven Lake, 37, owner of Lake’s Family Heating in nearby Harmony, he said.

Wright said police found a shotgun near the bodies and found that some sort of flammable liquid, such as gasoline, had been spread in the house on picturesque Shore Road, but wasn’t ignited.

Police called the incident a “despicable case of domestic violence.”

Investigators can’t say for sure what pushed Steven Lake over the edge, Wright said, 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.

Wright said the arrival of a Dexter police officer Monday morning may have caught Steven Lake by surprise, prompting him to take quick action and pull the trigger.

Employees at the school in Dexter where Amy Lake was a teacher and her children were students called police to report that the three had not shown up for school Monday.

Wright said a school employee drove past the house and saw Steven Lake’s Jeep parked in the yard. Lake had been prohibited from having contact with his wife and children.

“There was a protective order and bail conditions from a June 2010 domestic situation where he held his family hostage,” Wright said.

Lake was free on bail while awaiting trial for that incident in Wellington, he said.

When Dexter police Officer Kevin Wintell arrived at the house about 8 a.m., he reported hearing multiple gunshots from inside the house. Police from several law enforcement agencies then went to the scene.

State police negotiators tried in vain for more than two hours to contact Lake, by phone and a public address system. Police never made contact with anyone inside, but they didn’t know whether people were alive in the house.

Around 2 p.m., a state police armored vehicle with a battering ram moved in on the house. Officers found the bodies in the living room. Some of the victims had been shot multiple times, according to the state Medical Examiner’s Office.

Diana Wood, an employee at the Harmony Country Store, said Amy Lake was a kind, generous person.

“Amy was one of the sweetest, most genuine people that there is. She had a heart of gold,” Wood said. “The kids were just like her. You couldn’t get a better person.”

Wood, 28, said Steven and Amy Lake grew up in Wellington. She said Amy’s mother, Linda Bagley, babysat her, beginning when she was 4, and Amy was always there, helping out with the younger children.

Tracy Morrison, who owns a garage and logging business in Harmony, said he has known the Bagleys and the Lakes for many years. He said Amy and Steve Lake had a troubled relationship, and she moved to Dexter with the children after the couple split up in 2010.

“It was just a nasty divorce,” Morrison said.

Steven and Amy Lake would have been married 16 years in July.

The 2½-story, red vinyl-sided farmhouse stands on a small hill on the north shore of Lake Wassookeag, about a mile from Route 23, the Moose Head Trail to Greenville.

“We don’t know when (Steve Lake) showed up, but he obviously showed up with the intent of causing harm,” Wright said at the scene. “Probably his plan was interrupted by the officer, and that’s when (the officer) heard the shots.”

An initial examination by the state medical examiner indicated that the four died about 8 a.m.

Mylon Lake of Harmony told The Associated Press that Steven Lake was his nephew and was angry about a child custody dispute. Steven and Amy Lake at one time shared custody of their children, but Steven had recently lost his right to see them.

“You push buttons enough, and everything’s going to come to a head,” he said.

Steven Lake once owned his own heating company in Harmony, but most recently worked for another company, Mylon Lake said.

A neighbor, Phil Kreider, said police had been checking on Amy Lake every day because she had a restraining order against her husband.

“I can’t imagine anything like this happening here, and here it is,” Kreider said.

Amy Lake took appropriate court action to protect herself, said Stephen McCausland, spokesman for the Maine Department of Public Safety.

“Her co-workers were aware of her situation, and one of them reported (Steven Lake’s) vehicle in the driveway,” he said. “It is frustrating when someone has taken the appropriate steps and we still end up with a despicable act of domestic violence.”

Hours after the killings, tearful residents gathered in a park in downtown Dexter for a vigil as a drizzle fell. 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,” Walters said. “We should make sure things like this never again happen to our women.”

Melissa Gudroe of Dexter, whose daughter was one of Amy Lake’s students, said, “It’s a huge loss for the school, for the kids. She was so well-loved by everybody.”

Rebecca Dyment of Corinna said, “There’s going to be a hole in everybody’s heart.”

 

The Associated Press contributed to this story.