SOUTH PARIS — In November, Heather Bickford and Dana Hill decorated a sparkling white Christmas tree in their Market Square apartment, and Bickford shared the image on Facebook.

On Tuesday night, the two were found dead in that apartment.

Bickford’s daughters, ages 8 years and 2 months, were home at the time the couple’s bodies were discovered, were not injured and have been placed in the custody of the state Department of Health and Human Services.

Bickford and Hill, both 31, had been together for less than a year.

Police were called to the apartment, which was being rented by Hill, around 8:30 p.m. Tuesday by a man who knew the couple, said Steve McCausland, spokesman for the Maine Department of Public Safety. The man had come to the apartment and found the bodies.

On Wednesday, police declined to release any information about how the couple died, including whether their deaths resulted from a murder-suicide or a double homicide.

For most of Wednesday morning and afternoon, officers with the Maine State Police and Paris Police Department filtered in and out of the apartment building, sometimes carrying boxes of evidence.

According to his Facebook page, Hill was a graduate of Buckfield Junior-Senior High School and was employed as a chef at Market Square Restaurant, which is attached to the apartment.

According to restaurant owner Scott Gilbert, Hill had been a valued employee for the past three years. “He’s just a good worker,” Gilbert said. “Just an all-around nice guy, and friends with everyone here.”

Hill, who didn’t have a driver’s license, had been catching rides to Paris from the town of Sumner for years before the apartment behind the restaurant became vacant, Gilbert said. Hill moved in because it was convenient for getting to work.

Denise Cyr, a cousin of Hill’s, said he was the “most loyal, loving person I’ve ever known” and that she and the rest of her family were “devastated.”

“Dana and I spent a lot of time together as kids,” Cyr said. “I just don’t know what to say. I’m in disbelief.”

Bickford’s Facebook profile noted she was originally from Hartford and was employed as a direct support professional with Opportunity Enterprises.

Contacted Wednesday, a representative of Opportunity Enterprises said Bickford was not an employee.

Bickford’s Facebook page is packed with photos of her older daughter and, most recently, an image taken in October of her newborn.

Bickford’s sister, with whom Bickford had lived before moving to Market Square, declined to talk to the Sun Journal.

Before Bickford moved in with Hill, court records detail a turbulent relationship between Bickford and her former partner, Mark Penley, 49, of Peru. The couple, who had been together for 10 years, broke up in May 2018.

According to court records, on May 21, Penley filed a request for temporary protection from abuse against Bickford, claiming he feared their daughter was in immediate danger of abuse by her. At the time, Bickford had moved out of the family home and into a trailer on Staples Hill Road in Canton that Penley claimed was within “20 feet from the front door” of a convicted sex offender.

According to state records, that offender was convicted of gross sexual assault of a person under the age of 14 years in 2005 and is a lifetime registrant on Maine’s Sex Offender Registry.

Penley also accused Bickford of repeatedly slapping their daughter, and said Bickford’s new home did not have a bedroom for their daughter, who had to sleep on the couch.

He also accused Bickford of leaving their daughter alone when she met up with Dana Hill.

Penley was given temporary custody of their daughter, and Bickford was permitted weekend supervised visits, pending a hearing scheduled for June 8.

On June 1, Bickford was charged with violating that temporary protection order after staying the night at Penley’s house while the couple were trying to “work things out.”

Penley reported the overnight stay after Bickford allegedly told him that if she got custody of (their daughter), he would never see her again.

Bickford pleaded guilty to the violation and was sentenced to serve 24 hours in the Oxford County Jail. Penley withdrew his motion for protection June 8.

Two misdemeanor charges of domestic violence assault filed against Bickford on June 9, 2018, were dismissed in July.

Autopsies on Bickford and Hill were scheduled for Wednesday at the state Medical Examiner’s Office in Augusta.

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