Saco community gathers to grieve ‘unspeakable horror’

Posted July 29, 2014, at 10:16 p.m.
Last modified July 30, 2014, at 7:52 a.m.

SACO, Maine — An hour before Tuesday’s candlelight vigil remembering slain 12-year-old Jason Montez and his family, Reggie Kimball rode his best friend’s skateboard up and down the sidewalk on Water Street.

The two boys traded skateboards the other day, and Kimball didn’t have a chance to get his own skateboard back before his friend’s tragic death.

On Saturday night, Montez’s stepfather, 33-year-old Joel Smith, shot and killed his wife, Heather Smith, 35, as well as Montez and his two biological children, Noah Montez, 7, and Lily Smith, 4, before killing himself, police said.

“I know he’s up there riding my skateboard now,” Kimball said Tuesday evening, breaking into tears before turning into his mother’s arms.

Kimball was among several hundred people gathered outside RiverView Apartments just before dusk to remember the Smith family and begin to cope with what Saco police Chief Bradley Paul called the “unspeakable horror” of Saturday night.

Throughout the evening, children and their parents laid plastic-wrapped bouquets of flowers and stuffed bears on a small memorial just beneath the Smith family’s apartment. A small white rosary hung from the handlebars of a pink tricycle, and notes written in crayon told the children how much they are missed.

Kimball had known Montez since the fifth grade — two years ago, when the Smith family moved to Saco from Arizona.

Joel Smith apparently was having financial difficulties. State police said Heather Smith had told a family friend the night of the shooting that her husband had threatened suicide earlier in the week by pointing a gun at his head.

But Dellas and Heather Nason, who organized Tuesday’s memorial, said Joel Smith had been in their apartment just across the street only last week to fix their sink, and seemed fine.

“No one saw anything wrong,” Dellas Nason said. “He just snapped.”

Just after 8 p.m., Dellas Nason spoke to the crowd, thanking them for joining the remembrance, and telling of the first time he met Joel and Heather Smith and the kids. Dellas had just bought a new front-loading washing machine that “weighed a ton,” and Joel offered to help move it.

“The only thing he asked for that day was a beer and some friendship,” Dellas said.

Heather Nason, who babysat for the Smith children, wept as she said, “Heather and Joel — their kids were their everything.”

Both urged people to seek help as they struggle to heal from the tragedy.

Following five moments of silence — one for each member of the Smith family — friends released brightly-colored balloons that Deacon Kevin Jacques of Good Shepherd Parish said bore messages to the three children who perished.

“I call this their village — a caring community,” Rev. Doug Nielsen of the Saco’s First Parish Congregational Church said of the courtyard formed by the three large blue-gray apartment buildings. “We’re here to say, ‘We’re a community, and we’ll get through it.’ This is horrible. This is a tragedy, but given the opportunity to talk and to heal, the kids will be fine. Talk to your kids, tell them you love them and if there’s anything they feel they need to share with you they can, or they should find someone they can [talk to].”

Saco Mayor Don Pilon said resources are available for friends and family of the Smiths, as well as for the first responders, who have already begun counseling. More than a dozen area clergy, as well as grief counselors gathered following the vigil to speak with neighbors.

Dawn Tarbox stood with her arms around her three children. Amarise, who rode the school bus with Jason Montez, held a white taper candle in tears. Seven-year-old Teyvian, who was in school with Noah Smith, turned to watch the crowd, seemingly unaware of the grief.

“I told him, ‘You’re probably not going to see Noah again,’ and when he asked why, I said, ‘He died,’” Tarbox said. “Tonight when he asked how Noah died, I said I didn’t know.”

But Amarise knows, as does her older daughter, Sierra, 15. When they asked their mom how such a tragedy could occur, she told them, “I don’t know.”