Today we are remembering two little girls and their mother that did nothing but bring good into the world. I sit at my desk in the UK waiting to hear from home. The jury for the Petit trial is deliberating and they will determine the fate of a murderer who in cold blood stalked a mother and her daughters, followed them home, and later returned to rape them and burn them alive.
My husband and I moved to our small town eight years ago. We had always dreamed about bringing up our children in a safe environment where people never bothered to lock their doors. We used to laugh about the fact that every street in our town had a 25mph speed limit in order to make our police force feel needed. We gingerly planned our home and worked with an architect to build a dream.
That dream shattered on July 23, 2007 when the phone rang. It was one of my then 12 year old’s friends, who had moved to a different state.
“Maegan” she yelled so loud that I could hear her from the back to the front seat.
“What is happening in Cheshire? There was a mother right by your house that was stabbed and they killed her daughters too.”
My daughter, her face a pale grey, looked over at me for help. She wanted me to say “that is crazy, that never happens.” I just looked at all of my children and told them that people don’t get murdered for any reason, there had to be drugs involved. Besides these things didn’t happen in my small town, they happened thousands of miles away.
I was wrong. There were no drugs involved. Steven Hayes and Joshua Komisarjevsky came off parole and planned to burglarize a home. That night they entered Stop and Shop in search of a victim. They followed a beautiful woman driving a white Mercedes SUV home, the same car I drive, with her 15 and 12-year-old daughters, girls the same age as mine. The youngest daughter Michaela wanted to cook dinner that night for her family. Appreciating the gesture, her mom brought her out to the store for the ingredients once she was done working as a school nurse in town.
As a mother, there isn’t a night that goes by that I don’t think about them as I straighten my kitchen for the next day before heading off to bed. I think about what was said in the house that night. Did they have a good dinner? Did Jennifer Petit tell her girls she loved them? Did she straighten her counter so that everything was perfect when she got up the next morning? Did she leave her husband sleeping on the couch with the screen door shut and unlocked, thinking that he would eventually wake up and make his way to bed? Did she kiss him good night?
In the middle of the night the perpetrators went in, found Dr. Petit sleeping on the couch and smashed him in the head with a baseball bat. They put a bag over his head and tied him to a pole in the basement, leaving him for dead.
Upstairs, it was approx. 3am. The girls were sleeping. The tied them to their childhood beds, surrounded by the stuffed animals and mementos they had collected throughout their lives. Komisarjevsky raped Jennifer Hawke-Petit and the youngest Michaela and had Hayes take pictures with his phone. After spotting a bankbook on the dresser, they forced Jennifer into a car and brought her to a bank, my bank. She wanted to withdraw $15,000 and slipped a note that she was being held hostage in her home. She got the money and went back into the car with the murderer afraid that if she didn’t, her children would be killed.
The police made it to the house, however it was too late. They strangled Jennifer and doused the house with gasoline and set it on fire. Dr. Petit woke up and made it outside to turn around and see his house go up in flames, his life over.
My friend’s husband was the arresting officer. The perpetrators smashed the Petit’s car into a tree and were apprehended on the spot, about 2 miles from my house.
On October 5th, 2010, three years later, the jury voted after seeing over 200 pieces of exhibit and imposed the death penalty for Steven J. Hayes. On October 13, 2011 a second jury convicted the other suspect Joshua Komisarjevsky. Today I am waiting to hear his sentence. Today I am glad that I am in the UK and not home driving back and forth, a mother transporting her children to school, past the Komerjevsky house which is just 2 blocks away. I can’t count the number of times I have traveled by the house and didn’t notice the small cape with chipped paint and various vehicles in the yard, until July 2009. Now, I can’t miss it.
For months, I slept with a pipe under my pillow. The night of the crime my four children slept with me in my bed because my husband was away. I didn’t sleep. The mother’s in my town didn’t sleep. We all wanted answers. Why would someone do this?
Every year, the people in Cheshire Connecticut donate money to MS, the cause that Jennifer Hawke-Petit supported, and the disease she had lived with. We gather to pay tribute to this beautiful family. The town lights small candles inside luminary paper bags to light the streets and mourn our loss. From above you can see the word “hope” a message to the world that where there is hope there is love. They may have taken the Petits but they will never take the love away from our sleepy town of Cheshire CT.
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