HARMONY, Maine — David Vautier, grizzled and gruff from a lifetime of hard work, doesn’t come across as an emotional guy, but everyone has his limit. When he saw his grief-stricken granddaughter running toward him on the side of the road Monday morning after hearing about the deaths of the Lake family, he lost it.
“Just the sight of my granddaughter crying so hard, I couldn’t take it,” said Vautier. “I didn’t know what to say to her. What is there to say?”
Vautier is the next-door neighbor to Ralph and Linda Bagley, whose daughter and two grandchildren were gunned down Monday in Dexter. Vautier watched Amy Bagley — who became Amy Lake when she married — grow up. He watched her go to college and become a teacher in Dexter. He remembers her marrying Steven Lake, a local boy from the nearby town of Wellington, and watched as they raised a son and daughter. Like a lot of people in a similar situation, Vautier felt helpless when it became known that Amy and her husband were having marital troubles.
Despite having serious worries, Vautier never guessed Steven Lake would kill his wife and two children, but according to police that’s exactly what happened Monday morning.
“Everyone knew Steve was going to flip out,” said Vautier, who was at a local grocery store Monday afternoon buying food so he could bring coleslaw and chicken salad sandwiches to his grieving neighbors, whose driveway was packed with cars Monday.
“Everyone knew something bad was going to happen,” Vautier said of the relationship between Steven and Amy Lake. “Ralph [her father] couldn’t stop it. He even tried to hide her.”
According to records at Piscataquis County Superior Court, Amy took her own measures to shield herself from the violence, too. On June 14, 2010 — almost exactly one year ago — Steven Lake held her and the children at gunpoint in their Wellington home, according to Bangor Daily News archives. He threatened to kill himself and his family, wrote Amy Lake when she filed for a protection from abuse order on July 21, 2010. He’s made similar threats before, she wrote.
Steven Lake was arrested the next day at a heating and air conditioning business he owned called Lake’s Family Heating. He was charged with criminal threatening with a dangerous weapon and domestic violence criminal threatening, charges which were still pending Monday, according to court records. The trial had been continued twice since February of this year and was scheduled to begin on July 5. He also faced charges for violating a condition of release and violating a protective order stemming from an incident last November. Lake faced a July 5 court date for those charges, as well.
There have been numerous filings related to the case in the past year for changes to bail conditions, some of which sought visitation rights with his children, 12-year-old Monica and 13-year-old Coty.
On his Facebook page, Lake posted frequent statements about his children. On May 22 of this year, the day after a California minister had predicted the world would end, Lake posted: “Miss my kids more each day love them so glad the world didn’t stop yesterday i would have never saw them so glad the world continued!!!!”
His last post about his children was at 8:43 a.m. Sunday.
“Sad missing the kids wish we could do something as a family miss the old days so much,” he wrote on his Facebook page amid numerous photos of his children, himself and his wife.
The original protection from abuse order against Steven Lake was renewed in August 2010 and required that he not possess firearms or have contact with his wife or children — unless Amy Lake agreed that he could see Monica and Coty. It was unclear how much visitation Steven Lake has had with his children recently, though the protection from abuse order was in effect until Oct. 26 of this year, according to court documents.
The separation from his children weighed heavily on Lake, according to Ron Robinson, owner of C&R General Store in Harmony. Robinson knew the victims and knows most of their extended families, many of whom still live in the Harmony and Wellington areas. Amy Lake worked for Robinson for four years when she was younger, partially to raise money to attend the University of Maine at Farmington, where she earned a bachelor’s degree and teaching certificate several years ago. Amy was in Robinson’s store Sunday evening, though Robinson didn’t see her. He assumed she was in town to visit her parents. It had been a few weeks since he’d seen Steven Lake, but he said it was obvious “something wasn’t right with him.”
“He hasn’t been able to see the kids for a while,” said Robinson. “That must have been hard on him. They used to do lots of things as a family, snowmobiling, four-wheeling, fishing. I can’t believe he’d do this to his own children. I knew he was upset and had some issues, but I never thought he’d do this.”
Brandy Bussell of Harmony said her husband is related to the Bagley family. She knew Steven Lake from seeing him around town.
“He just didn’t seem right after they separated,” Bussell said of Steven Lake. “He was really down in the dumps. Divorce doesn’t make anybody feel good. It’s just very sad for both families.”
David Vautier, struggling to keep from crying again, said the Bagley and Lake families won’t soon recover from this tragedy, nor will anyone else who knew Steven, Amy, Monica or Coty Lake.
“Amy was a princess, someone you could admire,” he said. “She took care of her children and raised them right. They were such beautiful children. This is a terrible loss for the whole community.”
BDN writer Judy Harrison contributed to this report.