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Town stunned after fatal arson-home invasion

Two men with long rap sheets were on parole when they broke into a doctor’s home, strangled his wife and killed the couple’s two daughters in a fire they set to cover their tracks, authorities said Tuesday.
/ Source: The Associated Press

Two men with long rap sheets were on parole when they broke into a doctor’s home, strangled his wife and killed the couple’s two daughters in a fire they set to cover their tracks, authorities said Tuesday.

Joshua Komisarjevsky, 26, of Cheshire, and Steven Hayes, 44, of Winsted, were arraigned Tuesday on charges of assault, sexual assault, kidnapping, burglary, robbery, arson, larceny and risk of injury to children. Bail was set at $15 million each, which Judge Christina G. Dunnell said was warranted because of the men’s criminal histories.

They did not enter pleas, and their public defenders declined to comment.

The state medical examiner confirmed Tuesday night that Jennifer Hawke-Petit, 48, was strangled and that her daughters, 17-year-old Hayley and 11-year-old Michaela, died of smoke inhalation. All three deaths were ruled homicides.

More charges are pending, state police said Tuesday night.

Dr. William Petit Jr., 50, remained hospitalized with head injuries.

“He’s doing OK physically. Emotionally he is devastated and still worried about others,” said Petit’s pastor, the Rev. Stephen Volpe.

'Senseless, violent assaults'
The two men entered the Cheshire home at about 3 a.m. Monday, planning to burglarize it, state police said. When they found the family at home, the men beat Dr. Petit, then tied up his wife and daughters, police said.

Employees at a bank called police after one of the suspects forced Hawke-Petit to make a withdrawal there around 9:30 a.m., officials said. The men were caught in the family’s car after ramming several police cruisers as they fled the burning home, authorities said.

Hawke-Petit and her daughters were found dead inside. Dr. Petit escaped the blaze and told police what happened.

Petit’s family issued a statement Tuesday through the hospital where the doctor was being treated.

“Our precious family members have been the victims of horrible, senseless, violent assaults. We are understandably in shock and overwhelmed with sadness as we attempt to gather together to support one another and recognize these wonderful, giving beautiful individuals who have been so cruelly taken from us,” the statement said.

Both nabbed on parole
Hayes and Komisarjevsky each have more than 20 prior burglaries on their records. At the time of the killings, both were free on parole after serving prison time for burglary convictions in 2003, according to Bail Commissioner Garcia Harris. They spent time last year in the same halfway house in Hartford before being paroled in the spring, said Brian Garnett, a Correction Department spokesman.

Neither man has been convicted of a violent crime, and both were deemed appropriate candidates for supervised parole, he said.

“Both were on a weekly reporting schedule with their parole officers and had been in full compliance with the requirements of their release, including being employed on a full-time basis,” Garnett said.

Authorities have not said what they believe led Komisarjevsky and Hayes to the Petits’ home.

A message was left Tuesday with State’s Attorney Michael Dearington on whether he would seek the death penalty.

'Absolute tragedy'
Petit, the president of the Hartford County Medical Association, is a noted specialist in diabetes and endocrinology and is the medical director of the Joslin Diabetes Center Affiliate at The Hospital of Central Connecticut in New Britain. Hawke-Petit, 48, was a nurse and co-director of the health center at Cheshire Academy, a private boarding school.

The attack shocked Cheshire, an upper-middle class community of 29,000 full of Colonial-style homes just east of Waterbury and about 15 miles north of New Haven.

Komisarjevsky lived less than two miles from the Petits’ home. His family released a statement Tuesday.

“This is an absolute tragedy. Our deepest sympathy goes out to the Petit family (and all those whose lives they touched). We cannot understand what would have made something like this happen. There is nothing else we can say at this time,” the statement read.