PARIS — In November, Heather Bickford and Dana Hill decorated a sparkling white Christmas tree in their Market Square apartment, and Bickford shared the image on Facebook.

On Tuesday night, the two were found dead in that apartment.

Bickford’s daughters, ages 8 years and 2 months, were home when the couple’s bodies were discovered. The children, who were not injured, have been placed in the custody of the Maine Department of Health and Human Services.

Bickford and Hill, both 31, had been together for less than a year.

According to Stephen McCausland, spokesman for the Maine Department of Public Safety, police were called to the apartment, which was being rented by Hill, at about 8:30 p.m. Tuesday by a man who knew the couple. The man had come to the apartment and found the bodies.

Police on Wednesday declined to release information detailing how the couple died, including whether their deaths resulted from a murder-suicide or a double homicide.

For most of Wednesday morning and afternoon, officers with the Maine State Police and Paris Police Department filtered in and out of the apartment building, sometimes carrying boxes of evidence.

At about noon, a Maine State Trooper with the Major Crimes Unit searched through trash bags inside a dumpster in front of the building.

Shortly after that, the trooper and Paris Police Chief Hartley “Skip” Mowatt searched a small area around a vehicle parked to the left of the building.

According to his Facebook page, Hill was a graduate of Buckfield Junior-Senior High School and was employed as a chef at Market Square Restaurant, which is attached to the apartment.

According to restaurant owner Scott Gilbert, Hill had been a valued employee for the past three years.

“He’s just a good worker,” Gilbert said. “Just an all-around nice guy, and friends with everyone here.”

Hill, who did not have a driver’s license, had been catching rides from Sumner for years before the apartment behind the restaurant became vacant, Gilbert said. Hill moved in because it was convenient to the restaurant and easy to get to work.

Denise Cyr, one of Hill’s cousins, said he was the “most loyal, loving person I’ve ever known,” and that she and the rest of her family were “devastated.”

“Dana and I spent a lot of time together as kids,” Cyr said. “I just don’t know what to say. I’m in disbelief.”

Bickford’s Facebook profile noted she was originally from Hartford and employed as a direct support professional with Opportunity Enterprises.

Contacted Wednesday, a representative of Opportunity Enterprises said Bickford was not an employee.

Bickford’s Facebook page is packed with photos of her older daughter and, most recently, an image taken in October of her newborn.

Bickford’s sister, with whom Bickford had lived before moving to Market Square, declined to talk to the Sun Journal.

Before Bickford moved in with Hill, court records detail a turbulent relationship between Bickford and her former partner, Mark Penley, 49, of Peru.

The couple, who had been together for 10 years, broke up in May 2018.

According to court records, Penley filed a request May 21 for temporary protection from abuse against Bickford, claiming he feared their daughter was in immediate danger of abuse by Bickford.

At the time, Bickford had moved out of the family home and into a trailer on Staples Hill Road in Canton that Penley claimed was within “20 feet from the front door” of a convicted sex offender.

According to state records, that offender was convicted of gross sexual assault of a person younger than 14 in 2005 and is a lifetime registrant on Maine’s Sex Offender Registry.

Penley also accused Bickford of repeatedly slapping their daughter, and that Bickford’s new home did not have a bedroom for their daughter, who had to sleep on the couch.

He also accused Bickford of leaving their daughter alone when Bickford met up with Dana Hill, and that their daughter may have been molested by one or more men or boys.

Penley was given temporary custody of their daughter on May 21, 2018, and Bickford was permitted weekend supervised visits, pending a hearing scheduled June 8.

On June 1, Bickford was charged with violating that temporary protection order after staying the night at Penley’s house while the couple were trying to “work things out.”

Penley reported the overnight stay after Bickford allegedly told him if she got custody of their daughter, he would never see her again.

Bickford pleaded guilty to the violation and was sentenced to serve 24 hours in the Oxford County Jail. Penley withdrew his motion for protection June 8.

Less than three weeks later, on June 27, Bickford filed a request for temporary order of protection against Penley, claiming she and their daughter were in immediate danger of abuse.

In her affidavit in support of the request, Bickford wrote that Penley had a history of being verbally abusive and “controlling of my time and the people I associate with.”

She wrote she feared Penley would “flee with my daughter.”

That request was dismissed when the court found no credible allegations of abuse. In the ruling, the court “urged” Bickford to address the issues with Penley in family court.

Two misdemeanor charges of domestic violence assault filed against Bickford on June 9, 2018, were dismissed in July.

On Wednesday morning, a team of state police evidence technicians joined Maine State Police detectives, the Paris Police Department and the Oxford County Sheriff’s Office at the scene, according to McCausland.

Gilbert, the Market Square owner, said police were at the scene all day Wednesday.

“They’re definitely looking for something,” he said. “I hope they get it right.”

Autopsies on Bickford and Hill were scheduled Wednesday morning at the State Medical Examiner’s Office in Augusta.

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