DEXTER, Maine — It was a very concerned Amy Lake who walked into the Dexter police station on March 19 and told officers she was worried about what her estranged husband, Steven Lake, might do to her, their children and her friends.
She had filed for a protection from abuse order against Lake, 37, after a verbal confrontation in June 2010. Lake had gathered his family in the couple’s bedroom and held a gun down to his side that he had removed from a holster hanging on a bedpost, according to statements made by family members to Piscataquis County victim witness advocate Corina Tibbetts.
During the incident, Steven Lake was crying and yelling that he couldn’t live without his wife. Amy Lake told authorities that she thought her husband was going to kill them all then. The couple’s relationship continued to deteriorate, leading her to file for a divorce and to move her family to a rented home on Shore Road. Even with the court order and the move, Amy Lake worried constantly about what her husband might do, according to her friends.
The court order and the frequent patrol checks made by police of her neighborhood in response to her concerns were not enough to protect the beloved kindergarten teacher and her two children, Monica, 12, and Coty, 13. Steven Lake shot all three to death Monday and then killed himself at the Shore Road home, Maine State Police said.
The state medical examiner’s office, which conducted autopsies on the bodies Tuesday, ruled that both Steven and Coty Lake died of cranial-cerebral trauma from a single gunshot wound to their heads. Amy and Monica Lake died of head and chest trauma due to gunshot wounds, according to Brandy Desrosier, an office spokeswoman.
The funeral for Amy, Coty and Monica Lake will be held at 10 a.m. Saturday, June 18, at the Dexter Regional High School gymnasium with arrangements by Crosby and Neal Funeral Home in Dexter. Visiting hours will be from 6 to 9 p.m. Friday, June 17, at the Baptist Church in Dexter.
Relatives said Lake had been upset that he hadn’t seen his children in several months and had not been invited to his son’s eighth-grade graduation last Friday.
Police believe Lake had devised a plan to kill his family. That plan was disrupted when Dexter police Sgt. Kevin Wintle arrived at the Shore Road home Monday morning. Lake had spread accelerants, identified later as light diesel fuel, throughout the house, apparently intending to set it on fire after the slayings.
Wintle had been asked to do a well-being check on Amy Lake and her children around 8 a.m. after she failed to show up for her teaching job and her children were absent from school. When Wintle approached Lake’s house, he noticed Steven Lake’s dark blue Jeep parked near a shed and realized Lake must be inside the home. “The blue Jeep was a red flag to me knowing that he owned it,” he said.
Wintle said he pulled his cruiser up to the mailbox and did not enter the driveway. Seconds later, he heard six or seven shots in rapid succession from a high-powered shotgun or rifle that was discharged from inside the home.
“It was like they were within seconds apart and I could tell he was moving as he was shooting from inside the house,” Wintle said. But he couldn’t see anyone inside. Since he wasn’t sure if the shots were fired at him, Wintle recalled Tuesday, he immediately put the cruiser in reverse and backed up a few feet to a spot where he had significant cover but could still see the house. He immediately called for backup.
When Dexter Police Chief Jim Emerson arrived a few minutes later, Wintle said he heard two more shots from inside the house. More backup was requested.
More than 50 police officers responded to Wintle’s call, including state police troopers, the state police tactical team, Newport and Dexter police, the Piscataquis, Somerset and Penobscot County Sheriff’s Departments and game wardens. For several hours police tried to make contact with Lake through a speaker and by calling both Steven and Amy’s cellphones. When police received no answer, the tactical team entered the home at about 2 p.m. and found four bodies in the living room. All had been shot to death. The weapon was a shotgun.
The loss has been hard on this community, especially for Ridge View Community School, where students and staff wore purple ribbons Tuesday in honor and in memory of a popular teacher and her two children. Many of the staff members attended a vigil held for the Lake family Monday night.
”It’s always very difficult no matter who it is, but it is doubly difficult in this situation because not only do we have students but a staff member, as well, who died,” SAD 46 Superintendent Kevin Jordan said Tuesday morning.
School administrators met with a crisis team at 5 p.m. Monday after the deaths were reported, and on Tuesday morning they met with staff, according to Jordan. Rather than hold an assembly, he said each classroom was going to address the deaths. Grief counselors were on hand Tuesday and will return Wednesday to meet with any staff member or student who needs comforting or who just wants to talk. Jordan also said the school may remain open a few days after the official summer closing to help students adjust, if needed.
As the incident unfolded Monday, Jordan said some parents and friends, who were getting information from websites, were texting students to tell them of the circumstances. “We spent a lot of the day with the staff telling them what we knew, which wasn’t a whole lot,” Jordan said.
“We are not avoiding the topic” with the students, Jordan said. “The natural question from them and a lot of the students is ‘why?’ And we really don’t know why and that’s what we’ve told them.” He added, however, that it was pretty common knowledge that Amy Lake and her family were going through a rough time.
Jordan said there was a wide variety of reactions to the deaths. “The younger kids seem to be working through it writing some notes and thoughts and putting them in a little box that they’ve set up in the kindergarten wing,” he said. “Other students, as you can imagine, especially in grade six and eight, where Monica and Coty were students, are taking it really hard.”
Teachers, some of whom had been close friends with Amy Lake for years, are having a tough time dealing with the deaths.
Mike Tracy, principal of Ridge View Community School, said Lake, 38, who taught in Dexter schools for about 17 years, was an outstanding teacher. “She would go above and beyond to meet the need of every child in her classroom,” he said.
Tracy, too, said the school was aware of her concerns about her estranged husband, and she had particularly expressed worries about her two children.
Teacher Kristin Briggs, assistant principal of pre-K through fourth grade, said she had known Amy for 12 years and each had taught the other’s children. Lake was very athletic and the pair would often run together.
“I’ve been blessed to be with her,” Briggs said, tearing up. “She was one of the kind of people you could tell anything to and they wouldn’t judge you. She would never judge. My life will never be the same. It’s still not quite real.”
“She was a wonderful teacher,” kindergarten teacher Kelly Gay recalled Tuesday. “She was the type of teacher that generally loved her kids and put her kids before anything else.”
Gay said she was “devastated” upon learning of Amy’s and the children’s deaths and was unable to sleep Monday night.
“Let’s just say that when she didn’t come in yesterday, I knew something bad was wrong,” Gay said. “Throughout this whole experience, she spent all her time worrying about how it was affecting everybody else. She was worried about how it was affecting her friends because we were trying to help her and she didn’t want to put us in danger. She was worried about her children and her students, she was worried about her parents, and she was worried about everybody other than herself. She wanted to keep her kids’ lives as normal as absolutely possible and she would have done anything to make that happen, so she was very selfless in this whole situation. She just put everybody before herself.”
Tracy said just as Amy was beloved, so were Coty and Monica. “There’s not a dry eye in the building,” he said.
“We know there is a healing process that certainly needs to happen here and it’s been absolutely devastating to lose these two youngsters,” Tracy added. “I don’t think they had an enemy.” The children were involved in athletics and were very helping and caring of others, he said. Monica had even joined her mother in a race for the cure of cancer.
Anthony Shusta II, a Madison-based lawyer who was representing Steven Lake for the June 2010 charges of criminal threatening with a dangerous weapon and domestic violence criminal threatening, said he “never had an inkling” that Lake would turn so violent. In fact, Shusta said, he was working toward a plea bargain in the case that was “more favorable to my client than what had been discussed in the past.”
Shusta said Lake’s primary concern was to maintain contact which his children.
“He was making reasonable efforts through counsel to accomplish that at some point,” he said. “He had a supervised visit with the children several months ago but there were no visitation rights in place currently. I feel terrible about what’s happened, but I didn’t have any control over it.”
For Tracy and his staff, the slayings make no sense. “I can’t express what wonderful people they all were and what a tragedy this is,” he said.
It was a tragedy that local police did everything possible to keep from occurring. Wintle, the Dexter police sergeant, said once Amy Lake revealed her concerns, the department made frequent patrol checks on her Shore Road neighborhood. Officers also were on the alert for Steven Lake’s jeep and had notified other surrounding police departments, he said.
Wintle, who lives on Shore Road, said that even when he was off duty, he kept an eye on the home and the Lakes. “There wasn’t a day that went by that I didn’t watch her house,” he said.
Dexter police Officer Dana Gatcomb made a patrol check of Shore Road at 1:30 a.m. Monday and only Amy Lake’s small blue car was in the driveway, according to Wintle. Wintle said that when Gatcomb picked him up later that morning at his house for patrol, neither saw Lake’s Jeep in the driveway.
State police spokesman Stephen McCausland said police have several questions to answer during the investigation, including when Lake arrived at the house, how he entered, how he obtained the shotgun, and when the deaths occurred. “We are looking into many other aspects of this that we don’t have answers for,” he said Tuesday.
BDN writer Christopher Cousins contributed to this report.
An early version of this story gave the incorrect location for funeral services. They will be held at Dexter Regional High School.