SACO, Maine — The family had just returned home from a cookout at their apartment complex Saturday night, police said, when the father took a pump-action shotgun from room to room, killing his wife and children as they lay in bed and then taking his own life.
Maine State Police said Monday that they believe Joel Smith shot his 12-year-old stepson first, before moving on to the bedroom of his 7-year-old son. He killed his wife and 4-year-old daughter in the master bedroom, the authorities said.
His body was found on the floor next to his wife and daughter, beside the 12-gauge shotgun. The victims, some who had multiple gunshot wounds, were identified as 35-year-old Heather Smith; Jason Montez, 12; Noah Montez, 7; and Lily Smith, 4.
As this city of 18,000 south of Portland reeled, police said Joel Smith did not leave a suicide note that might indicate a motive for the slayings. Sergeant Chris Harriman of the State Police said at a news conference that Joel Smith was said to have been financially troubled and suicidal.
“From the investigators we know that they were having some domestic issues over financial problems,” Harriman said.
On the night of the shooting, police said, Heather Smith had told a friend her husband had threatened suicide earlier in the week by pointing a gun at his head.
“There is no indication that any assistance was sought after that incident,” State Police said in a statement.
The bodies were discovered Sunday morning after the friend called a maintenance worker at the complex to check on the family.
The family had moved to Maine from Arizona about two years ago, police said. Joel Smith was a maintenance worker at the RiverView complex on Water Street, while Heather worked as a medical assistant.
The family had moved from Arizona because of the sour economy, said Joel Smith’s mother, Jerys Caruthers-Thorpe, of Scottsdale .
“He was a good person — that’s all I can say,” Caruthers-Thorpe said by phone.
She told the Associated Press that Heather Smith was receiving help for substance abuse.
Earlier in the day, bouquets of flowers and a stuffed puppy lay in front of an apartment complex. Tape marked “evidence” in red lettering covered the apartment door. Friends of the family and their children left carnations and stuffed animals at a memorial site.
A friend of the family placed a pink tricycle on the soil that belonged to the youngest victim, Lily. The tricycle had four leaves on it, a reference to the young girl’s favorite television show, “The Land Before Time.”
As rain fell, residents stood on their porches reflecting and smoking cigarettes. Some who knew the family could not hold back tears.
“My kids are young too so it’s really sad,” said 28-year-old Annie Dore. “It’s very painful, you know, just knowing my kids are the same age as them. I just don’t understand why someone would do this.”
Dore’s 11-year-old son, Trevor, remembered playing with the family’s children. Many around the complex had memories of the young victims riding bikes and playing games.
“There’s a lot of, ‘How can a parent do that to their child?’ ” said Ryan Lamb, 30, who lives two doors down from the crime scene. “We just can’t believe they would do something like that.”
Lamb said his 10-year-old daughter played tag and other games with the family’s 12-year-old son.
“My daughter couldn’t sleep,” he said. “You try to be honest with them, tell them how the world can be rough sometimes.”
Lamb described the Smith family as social, friendly, and quiet.
Dave Tourigny, who lives across the street from the complex, said he heard four pops in succession — and a fifth one minutes later — on Saturday night.
“You don’t think you heard a gunshot,” Tourigny said. “There was no yelling, no screaming, just the shots. I just figured it was firecrackers.”
He said the news of the killings has haunted him. He was especially bothered by the violence against the children.
“It’s really creepy,” he said. “If you’re going to kill yourself, that’s one thing. But to take your family’s life, I mean — Christ, give your kids a chance to have a life, have something.”
Ken Devoe, who lives in a first-floor apartment below the family, said the Smiths rarely made a peep, except when the kids grew loud as they played.
“He was working all the time, too many hours, and he was tired all of a sudden,” he said. “She took care of the kids, and he worked.”
On Monday, children rode bicycles around the parking lot as parents stood watch. The memorial grew as residents adorned it with leaves and stuffed animals — and later, balloons.
“I mean a mom, a dad, and three young kids?” Devoe said. “It’s a tragedy.”Faiz Siddiqui can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.