I did not know Amy Lake but I have been told that she was a wonderful teacher who really cared for the children in her class, and often went beyond her duties to make a child's life richer. She had been estranged from her husband since he took her and her children hostage at gunpoint at their former home in Wellington almost exactly a year ago. Steven Lake was arrested, spent time in jail, and was eventually released on bail while his crime was set for trial.
Amy found a safe house, moved her family to a new town, and took all the right steps in making a new life for herself and tried to protect her and her childrens' safety. She procured protection orders, she initiated divorce proceedings, she made her friends and community aware of her situation and trusted in the system of justice. She had an attorney. Her husband was released from custody with all the legal entanglements that the system could place on him. He could not see his family, he could not possess a weapon and he would have to face trial for his actions. He had an attorney as well.
We do not know all the details, but somehow he found a shotgun and found Amy and their children and put them through a night of terror before killing them. He had spread flammable materials about Amy's house and was almost certainly planning to burn the house when he was interrupted by the appearance of a Dexter police car in the driveway. Amy's friends had noticed that she was not at school and her children had not shown up at school. One recognized that the Jeep that was seen in the driveway looked like one that Steve drove and the school called and asked the police to check in on her. I can't imagine the terror that Amy and the children experienced as they huddled in the living room with all communications cut off.
There are questions that have to be asked. Who gave or sold him the weapon that he was forbidden by law to possess? Why was he even allowed out on bail when his prior actions had been so clearly indicative of violent tendencies?
When I was a bail commissioner, I hated responding to calls for arrests for domestic violence. There is no other situation in which the decision to release an arrested party is so critical, and I always felt that the irrationality that seemed to be a factor in all such incidents made a compelling case that caution should trump the usual considerations. By my internal reasoning, any person who would abuse those who are their loved ones, the loved ones that are bound by ties of trust and dependence, is a person who is not right in the head. Such persons “not right in the head” are not exactly criminals by legal definition, but are threats to themselves and others and should be held to a different standard of review by the legal system. I thought, and still think, that the legal system is not properly focused on the real needs of all involved. The “legal system”, such as it is, certainly failed all the Lakes today.
Hundreds of people came together tonight at Wayside Park to remember Amy, Monica, Coty and Steve. It was a testament to the lives that Amy had touched and the terrible wound that we all feel. Reverent Walters spoke at the vigil tonight and said that anger is a recognized part of the grieving process that we all must go through. Right now I am angry, though I might not be thinking as clearly as I should. A dear friend reminded me that Steve's family deserves our compassion and that Steve himself deserves our pity. The point seems clear to me that Steve did not receive what he most desperately needed from the “legal system” that processed him like the usual criminal that is seeking monetary gain through theft, fraud, or violence. There was a key piece of information that he needed to understand and it had to do with learning more than the dry legal rules. He should not have been out of custody until he understood the limits of the “control” he sought over his loved ones and the irrationality of his emotions.
Perhaps my anger toward this legal system is misplaced. After all, it is a true statement that no protection order will effectively deter a person intent on an action. But my point is that the current system makes that exact pretense and gives only lip service to the real need to “get through” to the demons that roil the abusive ego. While the trial was postponed and continuances awarded to the attorneys, nothing of real value was being done for Steve. It is likely that nothing of real value is being done for the other men (and women) who are awaiting their day in court as well and that is the fear that haunts me.
It was a beautiful thing to see the hundreds of people who came tonight to remember this family ripped so viciously from us, and to hope that we will all remember to take a little better care of each other and to keep a concerned eye out for our neighbors in the future. Hopefully we will tolerate less of the low-level abusive behavior that grows inexorably into terrorizing and will work together to learn the lessons of this day. Hopefully we will recognize anew the good work that organizations like WomanCare do in our community and lend them our support. This has been a terrible day in so many ways and we must rededicate ourselves to the future that we will make together.
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