June 13, 2016 marks the fifth anniversary of the deaths of Amy, Coty and Monica Lake. On that tragic day in June of 2011, Steven Lake, estranged husband of Amy and father of the two children, entered the home where Amy, Coty and Monica had been living in Dexter, Maine and killed the three of them before turning the gun on himself. Amy was a well-loved schoolteacher in the Dexter school district, Monica was a sixth grade student, and Coty was a student in the eighth grade class with me; he was one of my good friends. There have been a multitude of articles and reports which have outlined the heartbreaking details of the killings that took place on that fateful day. I will not disclose such details here as they are details which have been burned into the minds of the members of my community, and relaying them here would do no more than cause pain for those of us who were impacted by this tragedy.
There are some things, however, which still need to be discussed. The issue of domestic violence has not gone away. In fact, each year nearly 50 percent of homicides in Maine are the result of domestic violence. Law enforcement across the state has been putting a lot of effort into preventing cases like the one that took place in 2011, because the truth of the matter is that the system failed Amy, Coty and Monica five years ago. Steven Lake should have been in jail awaiting his trial after having broken (multiple times) the protection from abuse order which Amy had against him. That abuse order had been put in place after Steven had threatened his family at gunpoint in June of 2010.
It is easy to look back after an event like this one has occurred and point fingers and place blame. It is natural for us to do this, but the truth is that the only thing we can do now is look to the future and find ways to keep such tragedies from continuing to take place. I am proud of the way law enforcement has stepped up since 2011. One of the most noted efforts has been to put electronic monitoring systems in place, so that victims and law enforcement can be notified if abusers come within a certain range of the victim. A large amount of funding for these systems has come from the annual ACM Race/Walks which are organized by Kelly Gay, a schoolteacher from Dexter and close friend of Amy’s.
If you are on the outside of a situation like this, it can be hard to fathom the importance of pushing for solutions to the problems with domestic violence that we see today. As a person who has experienced what it is like to be on the inside of such a situation, as a person who had to walk into school the day after this tragic event ripped my community’s heart to shreds, and who had to learn how to help pick up the pieces and to move forward with the people around me, it’s my job to be an educator. It’s my job to tell you that domestic violence could impact your life or the life of someone you know and love. It’s easy to tell yourself that things will never get that bad. We never want to believe that anything this tragic could happen to us, but I’m here to tell you that we cannot think like that. As a member of a community which has faced more than its fair share of tragedy over the years, I’m here to tell you that bad things do happen. As a society, we do not have all the answers. We work every day to find more and more answers, but we have yet to find an all-encompassing solution.
In any case, we need to keep trying, and there are things that all of us can do to aid in that effort. We can all be more educated on the issues that are plaguing our society, such as that of domestic violence. We can educate ourselves on warning signs and on important steps to take when we have concerns, and most importantly, we can tell ourselves not to ignore those concerns if we have them. It’s comfortable to live in a mental bubble where nothing bad can ever touch you, but it’s not realistic. I’m writing this article because it is important to talk about this event, even five years later, and it will continue to be important to talk about this event for years to come. Oftentimes, it is a tragedy like this one which acts as the catalyst for real action to take place and for improvements to be made, and so it is important to remember situations like this even as time goes on as a way to remind us to keep pushing, to keep educating, and to keep trying, trying to find a solution. Each year on the back of the shirts that are made for the ACM Race/Walk it says “Be Part of the Solution,” and we all need to be reminded to break out of our comfortable bubbles so that we can all really be a part of that solution.