June 20, 2018
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The male mind and the Dexter murders

Glenn Adams | AP
Glenn Adams | AP
A poster hangs in the hallway of the Ridge View Community School in Dexter, showing a collage of photos honoring Monica and Coty Lake, on Tuesday, June 14, 2011. Both children, ages, 12 and 13 were shot and killed along with their mother, Amy Lake, by their father, Steven Lake, on Monday at their home. Steven also took his own life.

A spurned husband and father ended the lives of his wife and their two children before turning the gun on himself. It’s shocking, tragic and yet so-very-familiar. Could anything have been done to divert Steven Lake from the course which dead-ended so terribly? Or was this destiny set in motion a year ago when, police say, he threatened his family at gunpoint?

The answers, if there are indeed answers, lie deep in the man’s psyche and perhaps in the collective male psyche. Law enforcement, the judicial system and the community itself may always be impotent in preventing such horrible crimes. But that shouldn’t stop all from trying.

The familiar pattern part of the murder-suicide in Dexter is the right place to start analyzing this tragedy. Husband and wife separate for unknown reasons. Husband does not accept separation and impending divorce, nor does he accept that there will be no reconciliation. Husband is hurt, and as is often the case with men, the hurt is expressed as anger.

This has played out in Maine and elsewhere over and over. “If I can’t have her,” the men seem to think, “then no one will.” The violence also seems to be a perverse expression of affection, as if the men are desperately trying to demonstrate the depth of their hurt, and by extension, love. It’s as if they will persuade the woman who has left them to return if only they are dramatic enough. It’s the knight-in-shining-armor myth gone terribly awry.

If the men in Steven Lake’s life told him, “Look, it’s over. She doesn’t want to be with you. Move on,” would he have listened? Could he have been persuaded that behaving well was something he needed to do to help his children survive the breakup, emotionally speaking? Could he have accepted that his children would continue to need him in the years to come, after custody and visitation issues were settled?

Formalizing such intervention is impractical. But extended family and the community do have a responsibility to help such men see the light of truth. Just as people must speak up and act if they believe a teen is suicidal, so should they try to deter a spurned husband or boyfriend bent on violence.

Court-issued protection orders, such as the one Amy Lake had obtained which forbade Steven Lake from having contact with her, are as strong as the paper on which they are written, skeptics say. Those orders are effective in deterring men from violence, but only for those who can see a future beyond the hurt and anger in which they find themselves.

Protection orders might be improved with a tiered system. Those with a history of domestic violence could mandate counseling and-or medication and a requirement to check in with law enforcement. If those terms were violated, detention could result. Surely the court system is capable of identifying those estranged husbands and boyfriends who are likely to be violent, and conditions of their remaining out of jail could include check-ins with local counselors or probation officers. Such meetings, even if brief, might catch warning signs.

When Steven Lake threatened his loved ones a year ago, many — family, friends, employer, law enforcement officers — kept an eye on the family. It wasn’t enough. Strengthening protection from abuse orders, which one lawmaker — Republican Ken Fredette of Newport — has already proposed, should be strongly considered.

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