It was one of the most brutal murders of modern times, one that has been seared into the memories of the once peaceful suburban town of Cheshire, Connecticut.
On July 23, 2007, two career criminals who had been out on parole broke into a Cheshire, Connecticut, home after dark, tortured and terrorized the family for hours, killed a woman and her two daughters, and left husband and father Dr. William Petit Jr – bloodied and beaten to within inches of his life.
The crime was so brutal that it drew comparisons to the Manson Murders and to the 1959 killings portrayed in Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood. Since the heinous crime, the murders of Dr. Petit’s family has been the subject of several TV shows, documentaries, and books.
Before the brutal home invasion was over and the home was set ablaze, Jennifer Hawke-Petit, 48, would be strangled. Her daughters, 17-year-old Hayley and 11-year-old Michaela were tied to their beds and died of smoke inhalation. Hawke-Petit and the younger daughter were also sexually assaulted. Dr. William Petit Jr. was beaten but survived.
The killers, Joshua Komisarjevsky and Steven Hayes are serving life in prison. They originally were sentenced to death, but Connecticut abolished capital punishment in 2012 – this case had delayed that abolishment, but the state eventually took the death penalty away.
Much like the disturbing scene from the Charles Bronson thriller “Death Wish,” Komisarjevsky picked Hawke-Petit and Michaela as targets when he saw them at a grocery store. He followed them to their home, left, and later returned with Hayes.
The two broke in around 3 a.m.; they smashed Dr. Petit’s head with a baseball bat as he slept and tied him up in the basement, leaving him for dead. They then tied the two girls to their beds. Later in the morning, Hayes drove Hawke-Petit to a bank, where he forced her to withdraw $15,000 under the threat of her family being killed.
After Hawke-Petit and Hayes returned to the house, Hayes sexually assaulted and strangled her. Komisarjevsky had already assaulted Michaela. The intruders poured gasoline around the house, including on or around the girls, set it on fire, and fled in the Petits’ car after police had surrounded the home. They crashed into police cruisers down the street and were arrested.
Dr. Petit managed to free himself and escape out the cellar hatchway as fire consumed the house.
As it turned out, Hawke-Petit was able to alert the bank manager of her terrifying situation.
“She explained to me that her family was being held, and as long as she got the money and got back to the house, everybody would be OK,” Mary Lyons, the manager at the Bank of America, said. “I just knew from the look on her face and the look in her eyes that she was telling the truth. Her eyes told me — a look from one mom to another mom.”
Lyons approved the transaction, and Hawke-Petit left with $15,000. As soon as she was gone, Lyons called the police – it still haunts her that she was unable to save most of the family.
Lyons, who retired in 2010, pays an annual visit to a memorial garden on the site of the Petits’ former home.
Where is Dr. Petit Now?
Despite having lost nearly seven quarts of blood, Dr. Petit survived. He testified at the trials of Joshua Komisarjevsky and Steven Hayes.
Following the catastrophe, he retired from medical practice for good, but he founded the Petit Family Foundation to honor those he had lost while wrestling for years with and undergoing treatment for “survivor’s guilt.”
This 501(c)(3) charity celebrates Jennifer Hawke-Petit, Hayley Elizabeth, and Michaela Rose by supporting young people’s education, particularly women’s education in the sciences, in order to better everyone’s living conditions. To this day, William remains the President of the 501(c)(3) charity.
Despite being still haunted by the past, William remarried in 2012 after falling in love with Christine Paluf while helping as a photographer at the Petit Family Foundation. William Petit III, the couple’s first and only child, was born in November 2013.
Today, the family appears to be happy. Petit has moved on to the best anyone can under such circumstances and appears to be satisfied with his current situation. In a rare interview given in January of this year, William said, “I used to have bad weeks and some very awful days. These days, it’s mostly unpleasant minutes and hours.”
The 65-year-old hasn’t forgotten about his first wife or his daughters, but his pain has lessened with time. Given what he endured, he deserves that and some peace.
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