Last weekend, the news from Maine was so grim it seemed as if it could have originated in another, more violent state.

Rachel Grindal was stabbed to death Sunday night at the wheel of her van in a Waldoboro driveway.

A South Portland computer consultant was shot to death in his basement.

And police are investigating the death of a Hebron man.

With two homicides and another death under investigation in just one weekend, is Maine’s normally very low homicide rate looking a little higher so far in 2009?

Not at all, said Stephen McCausland, spokesman for the Maine State Police.

There have been four homicides in Maine this year as of Thursday morning, but last year at this time there were 14, McCausland said.

“Particularly with the weekend that we’ve had, there’s a perception that homicides are up,” he said. “But the reality is that they’re not.”

Last year, there were 31 homicides, which was the highest number since 1989 when 40 people were killed in the deadliest year in Maine history. Of last year’s homicides, roughly two-thirds were related to domestic violence.

Nationwide, the 2007 murder and non-negligent manslaughter rate was 5.6 per 100,000, according to the FBI’s most recent statistics on crime in the United States. Maine’s rate was just 1.6 per 100,000, which is among the nation’s lowest. In comparison, Washington, D.C., counted a rate of 30.8 per 100,000 people.

“Maine has been and continues to be one of the safest states in the country,” McCausland said. “Each homicide is important and disturbing. They make news, as they should.”

Violent crimes linked to the recession have made news nationally lately, but McCausland said he doesn’t think the trend will dominate Maine’s homicide rates this year.

“The economy may be an easy excuse, but typically in Maine, if we’re talking homicides, it’s likely to be someone who loves you — or did love you,” McCausland said.

Julie Colpitts, interim director of the Maine Coalition to End Domestic Violence, said the statewide network of domestic violence agencies have been busy. Last year, 39,811 calls were made to the 24-hour help lines, and more than 11,000 women worked with the agencies on safety planning.

“In Maine, every 11 minutes, someone calls a help line,” Colpitts said. “There is a range of services provided to anybody at any level. In addition, we’re really focusing energy on prevention and to try to change the structure of our culture that produces this.”

Domestic violence homicide rates in Maine have been increasing over the past few years, Colpitts said, and the Maine Homicide Review Board found that a small fraction of those killed in 2008 had a protection from abuse order against their abuser.

“Our community needs to do a better job helping women or victims understand the resources that are available to protect them,” she said.