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Saturday 20 September 2014

'Friendly' handyman murders family

Published 29/07/2014 | 03:09

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A body is moved from the flats where five members of a family were found dead (AP)

A handyman with financial problems has shot dead his wife and three children before committing suicide, in what police in Maine say is one of the worst cases of domestic violence in state history.

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Joel Smith presented a friendly face at the 61-unit flats complex in Saco where he worked. But he was having domestic and financial problems, and his wife told a family friend that he had recently threatened to kill himself, police said.

The family had moved from Arizona about two years ago because of the sour economy, said Smith's mother, Jerys Caruthers-Thorpe, of Scottsdale, Arizona.

"I know something had to have snapped because Joel never would have done that in his right mind," she said.

Heather Smith, 35, was shot along with the couple's four-year-old daughter Lily in her parents' bed. Joel Smith's body was found on the floor nearby, a shotgun by his side.

The boys, 12-year-old Jason Montez and Noah Montez, seven, were found dead in their separate bedrooms.

Investigators said Smith's wife told a family friend before the shooting that Smith, 33, threatened suicide by holding a gun to his head about a week earlier. The friend later contacted a flats complex worker to express concerns about the family's well-being, leading to the gruesome discovery on Sunday.

Maine attorney general Janet Mills said t he case underscores the importance of taking suicide threats seriously, especially following a report by the state's Domestic Abuse Homicide Review Panel that showed 66% of domestic murder perpetrators had previously exhibited suicidal behaviour.

"Telling your boyfriend or girlfriend, 'I can't live without you', can quickly cross from the innocuous to the devastating," she said.

Neighbours described Smith as well known in the complex along the Saco River because he worked for a company that provided maintenance services. They described him as friendly and outgoing and few knew about any problems.

"If there was anything going wrong, no one knew it," said Heather Nason, who used to babysit his three children. "Whatever was wrong, they hid it well."

Smith, a carpenter and builder, decided to follow his father to Maine in the hope of escaping the tough economy in the West, Ms Caruthers-Thorpe said.

Recently, she said, the family suffered financial problems and her son realised his wife was suffering from an addiction, leading them to consider returning to Arizona.

"They were having problems, serious problems," she said. "They were in the process of trying to get some help."

Many people who knew the family described Smith as friendly, an assessment shared by his mother. "He was very talented, and artistic, and a perfectionist, and a very devoted family man," she said.

The killings were among the worst in modern history in Maine, Stephen McCausland, a spokesman for the state's Department of Public Safety, said.

Mass murders in Maine have claimed four lives six times since 1941 - most recently in 2006 when a cook killed and dismembered four people in western Maine.

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