The fatal shootings this week of Renee Sandora, 27, of New Gloucester and her friend, 28-year-old Trevor Mills of New Bedford, Mass., brought the number of homicides in Maine this year to 17.

They also raised another disturbing fact, one that abuse prevention advocates say needs more attention.

Of those homicides, more than half – nine to be exact – have been linked to domestic violence, said Steve McCausland, spokesman for the Maine Department of Public Safety.

Lois Reckitt, executive director of Family Crisis Services, which is based in Cape Elizabeth, has spent more than three decades trying to help women escape from domestic violence situations.

Her agency also has been involved in a federally funded program that has enabled advocates to meet and counsel domestic violence victims in Cumberland County, a program she credits with stopping abuse-related homicides in the county for 20 months.

The New Gloucester slayings snapped that string.

Under the program, advocates, who are accompanied by police officers, often go to the victim’s home and offer counseling and assistance. That help might come in the form of facilitating their escape to a safe shelter, or filing for a protection-from-abuse order.

“We’ve been engaged in a very active, collaborative effort with police and it seems to have been effective,” Reckitt said.

She said she is not sure if Sandora had an escape route because she had custody of four young children – she couldn’t just walk away. Joel Hayden, 29, the father of the children, has been charged with Sandora’s murder.

“People always say things like ‘if they had just gotten out of the situation,’ but it’s not always easy for a woman to get out, especially if children are involved,” Reckitt said.

Reckitt sees several problem areas that need to be addressed. One is bail codes, which need to be stricter, she said.

“I don’t think we have the right people in jail. We need to figure out who the most dangerous people are, the people who might be capable of killing another person. It’s not going to be the people who are in jail for smoking marijuana,” Reckitt said.

As for Hayden, she said, “I just don’t get why he wasn’t incarcerated.”

Reckitt also urged neighbors, co-workers and friends to contact the police if they notice anything out of the ordinary. That phone call could save someone’s life.

“We have to stop ignoring the problem,” she said. “Until the entire community rises up and says ‘no more,’ I don’t think (the violence) is going to stop.”

People in need can call the statewide domestic-violence hot line: (866) 834-4357.

Staff Writer Dennis Hoey can be contacted at 791-6365 or at:

[email protected]