‘No one was coming to help me’ – From murder, to sexual assault, to reckoning

  • Haley Dempsey faced a horrific childhood and is now trying to move forward. “When you go through something like that, it just totally alters how you see the world and how your brain works. A child isn’™t meant to withstand something like that and you never really recover from it.” GEOFF FORESTER / Monitor staff

  • Haley Dempsey faced a horrific childhood but now has loving husband and a family and tries to look forward, not backward. “When you go through something like that, it just totally alters how you see the world and how your brain works. A child isn’t meant to withstand something like that and you never really recover from it.” GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

  • Haley Dempsey faced a horrific childhood but now has loving husband and a family and tries to look forward, not backward. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

Monitor staff
Published: 9/9/2023 10:52:23 PM

Perched at her dining room table smoking a cigarette, Haley Dempsey recalled the moment her stepfather broke down the front door of her childhood home and shot her mother before turning the gun on himself.

She was just three years old but the violence in her home and her mother’s murder are some of the first memories of her life.

“He was arrested for domestic violence and four days later, he went to her house, shot in the door, shot her twice and then shot himself in front of us,” said Dempsey, now 28. “He left a suicide note that said he was going to go away for a long time and he wasn’t going to live without her. He wanted her dead.”

The murder-suicide sent her life into a tailspin of foster care where she said she was sexually abused by a caregiver who was like a grandfather to her, a period of homelessness and a quest to heal. Now a mother of two, Dempsey recently reached out to authorities and reported the abuse she endured.

At the end of July, that man, William Fiske, 69 of Loudon, was charged with multiple counts of sexual assault, accusing him of groping and raping her.

Valentine’s Day 1997

Dempsey’s mother, Dawn Gagne was just 21 when she was killed by her abusive husband. She was on the phone with her sister-in-law when her husband, Roland Gagne, who was 29, blew the lock off their front door with a shotgun. Dawn had been telling her about her new job and her new car when she screamed, “Oh my god, he’s got a gun,” and dropped the phone. Colette Juszkiewicz could hear her on the other end of the line begging her husband not to shoot her.

“How do you like that?” he yelled, and fired a shot, according to news reports at the time.

Juskiewicz called 911 but when police arrived, they were too late.

“If there was one thing Roland was always good for, it was keeping his promises and he promised her that if she had him arrested, he would kill her and she believed that he would, and he did,” she said.

On Valentine’s Day, four days before the murders, Roland Gagne was arrested for hitting his wife. On many occasions, Dempsey had seen him throw things at her, verbally berate her and strike her, she said. Per the terms of his release, a judge ordered Roland to stay away from his wife and their three children, issued a protective order on their behalf and took away his firearms. While he was in police custody, Dawn Gagne changed the locks on their Andover home.

“On Friday, she was scared he was going to come back and kill her,” said Richard Langevin, Roland Gagne’s stepfather, in an interview with the Monitor in 1997. “She told the state trooper that, and she was told by the state trooper to leave. I got home and said, ‘I don’t know what she’s scared of. He doesn’t have the heart, he doesn’t have it in him.’”

Gagne obtained a shotgun and set his deadly plan in motion.

In a suicide note scrawled on a bag of chips found next to Dawn Gagne’s body, he wrote to his mother but showed no remorse.

“Mom, tell everyone I’m sorry I didn’t get to say bye, but I love you all and you tell them that!!” he wrote.

“In the garage there’s a lot of small video tapes of all of us. Make sure the kids get to see them. I don’t want them to forget us. I love them so much. I’m crying. I love you.”

The kids never saw the tapes, Dempsey said, and if given the chance now, she wouldn’t want to.

Dempsey’s memories of her mother had started to fade until last year when Juszkiewicz gave her a scrapbook of their family pictures and a voicemail recording from a message her mother left before her death.

“We were best friends,” Juszkiewicz said through tears 25 years later. “She was a really wonderful mom and to live through everything she endured… for them to suffer the way that they did, it’s just horrible.”

Abuse and accountability

The night of the murder, Dempsey and her two younger brothers, two years old and nine months old, were taken by child protective workers and placed into the care of her uncle Darren Gagne, Roland’s brother, and his wife, Stephanie Gagne, despite Dempsey’s maternal grandparent’s fight for custody of the kids.

Darren and Stephanie weren’t around much, Dempsey said, and the children were often left in the care of William Fiske, Stephanie’s father.

Fiske is facing two counts of aggravated felonious sexual assault, two counts of aggravated felonious sexual assault without consent, felonious sexual assault on a victim aged 13 to 15 with penetration and additional counts of felonious sexual assault and misdemeanor sexual assault, according to court documents. He recently pleaded not guilty to the seven charges.

Fiske was charged for incidents that took place between 2007 and 2009 when she was a young teenage girl, according to court documents, but Dempsey said it was part of a larger pattern of abuse. Fiske declined to comment on the charges he’s facing. Attempts to reach Darren and Stephanie Gagne were unsuccessful.

Dempsey said she was too young at the time to know what was happening to her, but she remembered it felt wrong.

When Fiske first started abusing her, he’d carry her around the house and slip his hands into her shorts but as she grew older, it progressed.

“That’s how it went for many years – any opportunity he had, he’d grope me,” Dempsey said. “Then, as I got older, I was in seventh or eight grade and he caught me smoking a cigarette. He said ‘I can keep a secret if you can,’ and that was the first time that he tried to rape me.”

The misdemeanor sexual assault charge specifically accuses Fiske of groping her, the more serious felony charges accuse him of raping her.

When Dempsey was 16, she said she tried to report the abuse to her local police department but Fiske’s brother, Robert Fiske, was the Loudon Police Chief at the time and any reports she made never amounted to an investigation, an arrest or a conviction. The Loudon Police Department has no record of a report made by Dempsey against William Fiske.

Attempts to reach Robert Fiske were unsuccessful.

“I tried to tell them and I was sick to my stomach when I realized no one was coming to help me,” she said.

Instead, she fled the family home at 18 and lived on the streets until she met her now husband who took her in and got her the help she needed through counseling. She decided to try and report the abuse again after learning the statute of limitations had not run out and reached out to the Loudon Police Department, which has a new chief. Due to a conflict of interest, the case was handed over to State Police, which investigated and moved to indict Fiske through a grand jury.

Dempsey said she still suffers from severe PTSD and extreme fear when she’s in confined places, a condition called agoraphobia.

“Living with PTSD is pretty horrific. It’s been 10 years since I set foot in that house but every day, it’s like I am still there,” Dempsey said. “When you go through something like that, it just totally alters how you see the world and how your brain works. A child isn’t meant to withstand something like that and you never really recover from it.”

She hasn’t talked to her brothers, Jimmy and Johnny, or caregivers Darren and Stephanie Gagne since she left the family home, she said. Only recently has she reconnected with her maternal grandparents, Allan and Sandra Minery, who declined to comment.

In telling her story, Dempsey said she wants to hold Fiske accountable and speak out about the child protective workers and police who failed to protect her.

“This happens a lot with kids in the system and I want to shed light on the need for systematic reform,” she said. “They’re failing many kids and I had first hand experience with that as a child.”

Fiske has pleaded not guilty to the charges and waived his arraignment. He remains released on personal recognizance pending a trial date at Merrimack County Superior Court on April 15, 2024.

The Monitor does not name victims of sexual abuse unless they want to publicly come forward.

Jamie Costa

Jamie Costa joined the Monitor in September 2022 as the city reporter covering all things Concord, from crime and law enforcement to City Council and county budgeting. She graduated from Roger Williams University (RWU) in 2018 with a dual degree in journalism and Spanish. While at RWU, Costa covered the 2016 presidential election and studied abroad in both Chile and the Dominican Republic where she reported on social justice and reported on local campus news for the university newspaper, The Hawks' Herald. Her work has also appeared in The *Enterprise *papers and the *Cortland Standard *and surrounding Central New York publications. Costa was born and raised on Cape Cod and has a love for all things outdoors, especially with her dog.

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