DEXTER, Maine – A father angry over being denied access to his children and legally barred from seeing them went to their home Monday morning and killed them, his estranged wife and then himself.
Investigators can't say for sure what pushed Steven Lake over the edge, Maine State Police Maj. Gary Wright said, but a relative told The Associated Press that Lake was frustrated by an ongoing custody dispute and particularly upset at having to miss his son's eighth-grade graduation.
Lake, 37, shot and killed 38-year-old schoolteacher Amy Lake and their two children, 12-year-old Monica and 13-year-old Cote, with a shotgun before killing himself Monday morning, Wright said. Police also found a flammable liquid poured around the inside of the house, but it wasn't ignited.
A Dexter police officer went to check on Amy Lake at 8 a.m. Monday at her tidy two-story red clapboard home on the north shore of Lake Wassookeag when she didn't show up for work at the Ridge View Community School and when Steven Lake's car was spotted in her driveway. The officer heard multiple gunshots after pulling into the driveway and called for help.
State and local police and deputies from several sheriff departments surrounded the house and attempted to contact those inside by phone and through a public address system. Police never made contact with those inside, but didn't know for sure whether people were alive inside the house.
Around 2 p.m., a state police armored vehicle with a battering ram moved in on the house, and officers discovered the bodies in the living room. Some of the victims had been shot multiple times, according to the state medical examiner's office.
Steven Lake was awaiting trial for allegedly holding his family hostage last year in Wellington, where he most recently lived, Wright said. He was free on bail but was barred from contacting his family.
Wright said investigators "may never ever know" what pushed Lake over the edge.
Mylon Lake, of Harmony, told the AP that Steven Lake was his nephew and had been angry over a child custody dispute. Steven and Amy Lake at one time had shared custody, but Steven had recently lost his right to see the children and was particularly upset about the graduation ceremony, he said.
"You push buttons enough, and everything's going to come to a head," he said.
Steven Lake at one time owned his own heating company in Harmony, but most recently worked for another company, Mylon Lake said. Monica and Cote Lake attended school where their mother taught.
Neighbor Phil Kreider said local police officers had been checking on Amy Lake every day because she had a restraining order on her husband.
"I can't imagine anything like this happening here, and here it is," Kreider said.
A person who answered the phone at home of Amy Lake's parents said the family had no comment.
Dexter, with a population of nearly 3,800, was known for years as the home of Dexter Shoe Co., which Harold Alfond created out of a vacant woolen mill in the 1950s. Dexter ceased its operations in Maine about a decade ago, and the shoes are now made overseas.