DEXTER, Maine – While known at school as a fun-loving kindergarten teacher whose students made ice cream and tie-dyed shirts, Amy Lake was living a nightmare at home as she sought to protect herself and her children from an estranged husband who threatened to take a knife to her and do things "you wouldn't do to farm animals," records show.
After being held at gunpoint a year ago, Lake and her children moved from home to home. When they moved to Dexter, she stopped by the local police department and asked police to keep an eye out for her because she feared her husband.
An officer came to check on her Monday after someone saw her husband's vehicle in the driveway. The officer arrived too late.
Police say Steven Lake, 37, used a shotgun to kill his wife and their two children, 12-year-old Monica and 13-year-old Coty.
District Attorney Christopher Almy expressed frustration that Amy Lake wound up dead after doing all the right things — alerting police and taking out a protective order against her husband. Society too often doesn't take domestic violence seriously enough, he said.
"The other sad thing about this is we have a lot of victims who don't take these things seriously," Almy said. "They feel as if police are interfering in their lives, that the DA's office is interfering in their lives, and when we tell them your spouse is being abusive and you're a victim, they say: 'Nope, I'm fine. Don't bother me. I'll take care of this. There's no problem. I overreacted. Things aren't as bad as everybody thinks they are.'"
On Tuesday, students at the Ridge View Community School, where Amy Lake taught and her children attended classes, were helped by crisis counselors as a flag outside flew at half-staff. Posters hung on the walls memorializing the victims and drawing attention to domestic violence.
Students remembered Amy Lake as being a "bright light" as their kindergarten teacher, said Cindy Freeman Cyr, executive director of the Woman Care domestic violence agency in Dover-Foxcroft, who was talking with sixth-graders who were in Monica's class.
"These girls who are now sixth-graders were reminiscing about when they had her in kindergarten and all the wonderful things she taught them," Cyr said. "They were reminiscing about tie-dying shirts and making ice cream and being in plays about farm animals."
Her daughter, Monica, had a knack for making people laugh, and played field hockey and softball, Cyr said. She recently hit her first home run.
Coty, who was known for his smile, liked snowmobiling, fishing and hunting, and played on the school basketball team, Superintendent Kevin Jordan said.
The killings took place nearly a year after things began unraveling at the family's home on June 14, 2010, when Steven Lake became angry over his wife's suggestion that her parents take her to the hospital for surgery and stay with the family in Wellington while she recovered, according to court documents provided by the district attorney's office.
Steven Lake called the family into the bedroom, grabbed the gun off the headboard and ranted about having an "ace in the hole" and that "now he has to play it tonight," Amy Lake told a victim's witness advocate afterward. She was afraid her husband would kill her and their children and then go after someone else, and she wouldn't be able to warn anyone, she said.
Steven Lake would sometimes hint about a list of people — his wife's parents, brother and sister-in-law — who had "wronged" him and on whom he wanted revenge, Amy Lake said, according to the records.
"He started about how he might get only partially through his list before they catch him," said Almy, the prosecutor. "He also told Amy, 'If I have to I'll use a knife and I'll do things to you you wouldn't do to farm animals.'"
Steven Lake was charged with criminal threatening with a weapon and domestic violence criminal threatening. He had been scheduled to go to trial next month.
Law enforcement officials and evidence documents paint a picture of a family in upheaval over the past year.
Amy Lake and the children were going to counseling, Monica was having nightmares about her father coming after her and Amy Lake was scared of what her estranged husband might do. Steven Lake was taking medications, attending anger-management classes and going to counseling.
At the same time, Amy Lake was being pressured by her husband's family, she told the victim's advocate.
Steven Lake's mother told Amy that she could "make this all go away, that she could decide to drop the charges," according to the records.
Meanwhile, Amy Lake and her children moved from home to home. Dexter Chief James Emerson said he felt she was trying to hide from Steven Lake.
Officers would routinely drive down Shore Road and make sure everything was OK at her two-story, red-clapboard house, Emerson said.
Jordan, the school superintendent, would see Coty taking on responsibilities at home and think: "There's a kid who due to such tough circumstances over the past year has had to grow up fast."
Five months after being charged last year, Steven Lake was accused of violating a bail order for allegedly following Amy Lake into a convenience store in Harmony and then driving by her home.
But Steven Lake's attorney, Anthony Shusta, said he had no inkling that his client would turn violent. "Steve loved his children very much and it's a tragic, tragic situation," Shusta said.
Maine State Police were continuing to investigate exactly how and why Steven Lake killed his family, spokesman Steve McCausland said.
Canfield reported from Portland, Maine.