Amy Bagley Lake knew her husband was dangerous, so she did everything possible to protect herself and her two children.
If more legal protection had been in place, however, their lives may have been saved.
This is one conclusion drawn from four former and current police officers in a recently released report. The men, who were all volunteers and had no connection to the shootings, spent the last several months interviewing 69 family members, friends, co-workers and experts about the triple homicide and suicide in Dexter this summer in order to suggest ways to prevent future tragedies.
“We knew the system had failed,” said Brian Gagan, a former Westbrook and Scarborough police officer, who helped research the report. “We did not know how.”
The report makes clear that Steven Lake, 37, of Wellington, was the only person responsible for shooting Amy Lake, 38, and their two children, Coty, 13, and Monica Lake, 12, on June 13 at their home in Dexter. But it points to several ways that the general public, police, bail commissioners, prosecutors and judges could have toughened restrictions on Steven Lake and possibly prevented the killings.
The report listed improvements that may prevent future domestic violence homicides:
* Protection from abuse orders and bail conditions should mandate disclosure of all firearms accessible by the domestic violence offender. Firearms should be kept at police stations, not by family members and friends.
* An offender who seeks, hides, uses or attempts to acquire a gun or ammunition when a protection from abuse order is in place should be charged with a felony and not allowed bail.
* Bail amounts should be high enough to deter an abuser from violating a protection order.
* When a protection from abuse order violation involves a deadly threat, a judge should set bail rather than a bail commissioner.
* The courts should establish that murder does not prevent divorce. If a spouse who was seeking a divorce is killed, the divorce should be granted posthumously.
* Global positioning systems should track abusers during the period of a protection from abuse order when the incident involves a deadly threat or evidence of a weapon.
* A minimum of two officers should be sent to all domestic violence calls when officers suspect violence is likely.
* Use of social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter should be minimized or eliminated by people involved in a conflict in order to prevent intimidation.
* At-risk spouses should be advised to live in as secure an environment as possible, with deadbolts on doors, secured windows, motion sensor lights and a land telephone line.
* People charged with domestic violence crimes should not wait more than a year to go to trial.
“The community of Maine in general and Dexter, Harmony and Wellington in specific had their hearts broken on June 13, 2011, and may never be the same. But in respect to Steven, Amy, Coty, and Monica, it is vital that what is written in this report as the result of our exhaustive efforts become the first of its kind ‘road map’ to stopping this Maine (domestic violence homicide) problem in its tracks,” the report states.
The research group pieced together the events that preceded the killings. It shows the deterioration of Amy and Steven Lake’s relationship as gradual, though there were some significant indicators.
When Steven Lake’s daughter was first learning to walk, people said he got joy from tripping her and often flicked her in the face to make her cry. When she was older, she ducked down in the car whenever seeing an approaching Jeep or truck like her father’s.
In February, Steven Lake told one person, “When I do what I am going to do it will be on CNN.” Later, on Memorial Day weekend, he told a relative, “I am not going to serve one day in jail.”
On March 2, a sheriff’s deputy told three people, “I have never been as scared for a woman as I am for Amy.”
On June 8, Amy Lake told a relative, “If I ever see Steven again, I won’t be walking away.”
Before the homicides, Steven Lake wrote 13 suicide notes.
Steven Lake had been estranged from his wife and children for a year before the killings, ever since an incident on June 14, 2010, at their Wellington home when he allegedly threatened to kill them when a gun was hanging nearby.
Amy Lake told a domestic violence counselor the next day about what had happened, and the counselor told police. Steven Lake was arrested and spent a short time in jail before being bailed out by his father for $2,000 cash.
In the year before their deaths, the Amy Lake and her children lived in at least seven locations as they tried to avoid Steven Lake. A protection from abuse order was issued, though he allegedly violated it at C&R’s store in Harmony in November 2010. Family members described several other times when Lake contacted his family, though it was not reported to police.
At Amy Lake’s request, Steven Lake’s family took possession of his approximately 20 firearms in June 2010. Two of those weapons, however, were with Steven Lake at the time of the homicides and suicide.
Steven and Amy Lake’s divorce was scheduled to be finalized 10 days after the killings. Twenty-two days after the killings, Steven Lake was due in court on his earlier criminal charges.
The last contact Steven Lake had with any person other than Amy, Coty and Monica Lake was with his girlfriend at 12:38 a.m. on the day of the killings. Steven Lake killed his family and himself around 8 a.m. at 173 Shore Road in Dexter after violating the terms of the protection from abuse order and his bail conditions by entering the property.
The Ridge View Community School principal called Dexter police at 7:55 a.m. to report that Amy, Coty and Monica Lake had not arrived at school as they normally did at 7:40 a.m. Amy Lake was a kindergarten teacher there.
Dexter Sergeant Kevin Wintle received the dispatch call from Chief James Emerson on his cellphone and drove to Amy Lake’s home, arriving around 8 a.m.
When he arrived, he saw Steven Lake’s Jeep, with the vanity plate JoyToy1, at the top of the driveway next to Amy Lake’s blue Chevrolet Aveo. The police cruiser’s window was partially open as Wintle pulled up next to the mailbox and he began to radio to the communications center that he was on scene.
At the beginning of the radio transmission, he heard rapid fire from what sounded like a shotgun. About six or seven rounds were discharged, and he heard no voices or sounds of attempted escape. He radioed for rapid assistance, backed his cruiser up slightly for cover behind trees and angled it to block any other vehicles from driving in front of the house, while also blocking a possible exit by the assailant.
The lights in the house were off, and the curtains in the living room window were drawn, preventing the first responding officers from seeing inside where the deaths occurred. Wintle armed himself with a rifle and about five minutes after his arrival heard two more shotgun blasts. The final shots happened very shortly after the arrival of a second officer, Emerson.
As additional backup began to arrive from the Dexter Police Department, Maine Warden Service, Maine State Police, Newport Police Department, Piscataquis and Penobscot county sheriff’s departments and the Maine State Police Tactical Team, the property’s perimeter was secured and officers tried to call people inside the home, without success.
The tactical team entered the house around 2 p.m. to find Amy Lake face up on the couch in the living room. Coty lay face down between the couch and the television, and Monica was seated on the floor, leaning against the couch. Steven Lake sat in a recliner.
All were dressed in shorts and T-shirts, except for Coty, who was shirtless. Fuel and camper stove fluid had been spread throughout the living room, kitchen and on the clothes of the two children. All four were shot with a 12-gauge shotgun.
Steven Lake had brought two five-gallon cans of fuel, a container of camper stove fuel, a shotgun, a pistol and a flashlight into the house. He most likely got in through an unlocked door.
No one knows why Amy Lake didn’t call police. She’d told people, “I sleep with a cellphone under my pillow in case Steven shows up.”
Though it’s not known what time Steven entered the home, a neighbor saw his jeep in the driveway at least 40 minutes before the shots were fired. He carried a flashlight, so the research team assumed he arrived before sunrise.
The research group included Gagan, who now lives in Scottsdale, Ariz., and Ronald Allanech, a psychotherapist in British Columbia who spent most of his career as a police officer and chief of police in Westbrook; Michael Sefton, who has been a police officer in New Braintree, Mass., since 2002 and used to work as a police officer in Westbrook; and Joseph Loughlin, who retired in 2010 as assistant chief of police in Portland after serving 28 years.
Erin Rhoda — 612-2368