DEXTER, Maine — In the wake of a devastating tragedy that shook up this small Penobscot County community, more than 100 people gathered at the Ridge View Community School to share sometimes emotional stories at a domestic violence forum Thursday night.
Rep. Ken Fredette, R-Newport, organized the forum after the June 13 murder of Amy Lake, a kindergarten teacher at Ridge View Community School, and her two children by her estranged husband, Steven, who later took his own life.
One of the many people who took to the podium to speak Thursday night was Kelly Gay, a fellow kindergarten teacher at the school who said she was Amy Lake’s closest friend.
“Honestly, I was speaking today because I was doing it for her,” said Gay, proudly wearing a purple T-shirt with a ribbon on the front and photographs of Amy and her children, Monica and Coty, on the back.
“Something positive has to come from all this,” added Gay.
One initiative Gay is taking to raise domestic violence awareness this summer is putting on a 5-kilometer road race in town on Aug. 21, with half the proceeds going to Womancare and the other half going to the Amy, Monica and Coty Scholarship Fund.
“I’m hoping it’s going to be an annual event to raise awareness,” she said.
Gay told the forum audience that Amy Lake “did everything she could to keep her kids safe.”
The tragedy hit home in more ways than one for Gay and her family, as her son, Jared, was born a day after Coty Lake, and the two were close friends.
Gay and Lake’s classrooms also were right next to each other.
“Until you really start listening to the news, you don’t realize that this kind of stuff is in the news every single day, so something does have to change,” said Gay.
Those on the roundtable included Womancare representative Art Jette; Rep. Debra Plowman, who represents Dexter in the state Legislature; and Maine State Police Trooper Michael Johnston.
“I think having over 100 people at an event on a Thursday afternoon is really a great turnout,” Fredette said after the forum. “I’m excited by the stories, the narratives and the ideas for legislation.”
Many women who have been victims of domestic violence, a crime in which this state recorded 5,117 cases in 2010, shared their emotional stories, giving Fredette some insight to take back to Augusta.
After the Lake tragedy, Fredette intended to file legislation to amend Maine’s bail code to require judges to consider instances of domestic violence when setting bail for accused criminals.
“Those messages aren’t going to go unheard, some action will be taken, that I can guarantee you,” he said.
The case of the Lake family tragedy highlights flaws in the system, Fredette said, but he’s hoping the situation can be rectified.
“We’re looking at this from a state perspective on how we can protect [people], whether it be women or children, who might be victims of domestic violence,” he said.
Trooper Johnston, a 9½ -year veteran of the state police force who is based out of Troop E in Orono, delivered a powerful message from a law enforcement perspective.
“We take it very seriously; it’s a problem the state police take very seriously,” he said.
Fredette applauded those who spoke, many of whom wore purple shirts or ribbons — the fence at the entrance to the school driveway also was decorated with purple ribbons — for having the courage to share their stories.
“It’s a very difficult thing to do, and I think the courage that these people showed today gave me more energy to say we’re going to change this system one way or another,” he said.
Correction: An earlier version of this story had the wrong name of the school where the forum on domestic violence was held in Dexter on Thursday. The forum was at the Ridge View Community School not the Ridge Lake Community School.