DEXTER — Until Friday, this had been a place where people left keys in their cars and rarely locked their doors, where neighbors waved and often shared morning coffee.
It was the kind of small, close-knit community that lured people wanting to slow down and raise children, knowing they would be safe.
That sense of security evaporated with the execution-style murders Friday morning of a young woman and the toddler she had been baby-sitting.
Few could believe something so grim could happen in Dexter, at a home near the heart of town.
“It’s not a human being that did this. It’s just pure evil,” Town Councilor Marcia Delaware, who settled here 23 years ago, said Sunday.
“Last night, people were locking their doors, and children were sleeping with their parents,” she said. “It changed.”
Maine State Police investigators continued Sunday to search for the killer of Mindy Gould, 20, and Treven Jacob Cunningham, the 21-month-old son of Gould’s close friend Cassie Cunningham of Dexter.
Gould’s sister Melanie Bragg discovered the bodies around 11 a.m., after calling the home repeatedly and getting no answer. Both victims had been shot once in the head, the state Medical Examiner’s Office reported Sunday.
Police investigators with a search warrant spent the weekend combing through the gray Colonial-style home at 136 Church St., along the main road through town.
Gould recently had moved in with her sister and the house’s owner, Alan LaFountain, after ending a relationship in southern Maine, friends said.
On Sunday, more than a half-dozen state police divers converged on Lake Wassokeag, searching for the gun used in the killings. Nothing was found, authorities said.
A day earlier, a state trooper and German shepherd had searched woods behind the home.
Investigators on Sunday remained guarded, saying only that they had sought evidence that might help them catch the killer.
“There was no sign of forced entry,” said state police Lt. Darrell Ouellette.
“We’re making progress, but we’re still in the preliminary stages,” he said, adding that they had received about 100 phone calls from people offering information. “I suspect we’re going to be here a few days.”
Ouellette confirmed that investigators are exploring potential links between the killings and domestic trouble in the young woman’s recent past that led her to obtain a restraining order in Newport District Court.
They also are checking complaints filed with Dexter police late last month that someone had broken windows at the home and slashed the tires of vehicles parked outside.
Ouellette, however, said it was too soon to discuss possible suspects.
“We’re not focusing on any one individual,” he said.
As investigators continued their work, friends and relatives sought to remember the victims.
Arthur Jette of Garland, who is married to the boy’s maternal grandmother, said his death had devastated them.
Cassie Cunningham, Jette’s stepdaughter, had Treven on Feb. 16, 1998, midway through her junior year at Dexter High School. She returned to school shortly afterward, finishing the year in an alternative program.
During her senior year, she joined the winter cheerleading squad.
Most days, she bundled up Treven and took him to practice with her. The little blond-haired, blue-eyed boy became, in a way, the team’s mascot.
“We tried to be supportive, help her as much as we could,” Jette recalled. “He was special right from the beginning.”
Treven loved to laugh, dance and play outdoors. Among his favorite toys was a musical Winnie the Pooh.
“He was always happy, always playing,” Jette said. “He just loved to be involved in anything.”
During the day, Treven normally stayed with his maternal grandmother, Deborah Cunningham of Garland. But on Friday, she wanted to accompany her mother to a doctor’s appointment.
So Cassie Cunningham left Treven with Gould, her best friend. Gould, Jette said, had been wanting to watch the little boy.
“Mindy was a sweetheart of a girl, she really was,” Jette said. “No one could have anticipated this.”
Efforts to reach members of Gould’s family on Sunday were unsuccessful.
Jette said both families have received an outpouring of support. Friends and strangers have called or stopped by to offer their sympathies.
The community, he said, most likely will never be the same.
“It affects everyone in our area … the senselessness and the way it has stripped us of our sense of security in our homes,” Jette said. “Something has been taken away.”