Family members killed

The Petit family was photographed in October at Dr. William Petit’s instaIlation as president of the Hartford County (Conn.) Medical Association. Jennifer Hawke-Petit, formerly of Greenville, and the couple’s daughters, Hayley, left, and Michaela, were killed Monday in a home invasion.

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

Dr. William Petit Jr., a prominent endocrinologist, was severely injured and was the sole survivor of Monday’s attack. The suspects were caught fleeing the burning home, authorities said. The attack occurred in Cheshire, an upper-middle class community of 29,000 full of colonial-style homes about 15 miles north of New Haven.

Dr. Petit’s wife, Jennifer Hawke-Petit, 48, and daughters Hayley, 17, and Michaela, 11, were found dead in the home, a law enforcement official with knowledge of the investigation said. Mrs. Hawke-Petit graduated in 1976 from Greenville High School.

Joshua Komisarjevky, 26, and Steven Hayes, 44, were charged with assault, sexual assault, kidnapping, burglary, robbery, arson, larceny and risk of injury to children. Bail was set at $15 million each, and state police said additional charges are likely. Judge Christina G. Dunnell said the men’s criminal histories warranted the high bail. A court bail commissioner said they each have rap sheets with more than 20 prior burglaries.

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

The state medical examiner confirmed Tuesday night that Mrs. Hawke-Petit, 48, was strangled and that her daughters died of smoke inhalation. All three deaths were ruled homicides.

More charges are pending, state police said Tuesday night.

Dr. Petit remained hospitalized with head injuries.

The two men entered the home at about 3 a.m. Monday, planning to burglarize it, state police said. When they found the family 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 allegedly forced Mrs. Hawke-Petit to make a withdrawal there at about 9:30 a.m.

The men were caught in the family’s car after ramming several police cruisers as they fled the burning home, authorities said.

Mrs. Hawke-Petit and her daughters were found dead inside. Dr. Petit escaped the blaze and told police what happened. Authorities did not say what they believe led Komisarjevky and Hayes to the Petits’ home, how the two men knew each other or how the victims died.

A town police officer saw two men leaving the home as it was engulfed in flames, authorities said. The men sped away in a station wagon, striking several police cruisers before they were captured.

Dr. Petit, 50, the president of the Hartford County Medical Association, is a noted specialist in diabetes and endocrinology and the medical director of the Joslin Diabetes Center Affiliate at The Hospital of Central Connecticut in New Britain.

His wife of 22 years was a nurse and worked at the Cheshire Academy, a boarding school, as co-director of its health center.

Two of her former classmates were still letting the news of the tragedy sink in Tuesday afternoon.

“It was pretty shocking. I knew her real well,” said Dennis Stephens, who received a phone call from a fellow graduate who was also one of Mrs. Hawke-Petit’s friends.

Stephens, who is chief of Greenville-West Salem Township police, said he was good friends with Mrs. Hawke-Petit in high school. They occasionally spoke by phone when she came from Connecticut to visit her parents, who live in Slippery Rock, Stephens said.

He couldn’t remember exactly the last time they spoke, but the discussion centered on their high school days. Stephens recalls she was involved in a lot of school activities and was class treasurer.

“She was a great person and had a really nice family,” he said.

Betty Mentch of Greenville remembers Mrs. Hawke-Petit as one of her friends throughout high school. They also worshipped together at First United Methodist Church, Greenville, where Mrs. Hawke-Petit’s father Richard was the pastor.

“She was very outgoing and friendly and always had a smile on her face,” she said.

Though they didn’t keep in touch after high school, Mrs. Mentch was shocked to hear of her former friend’s slaying. Her mother had seen the story on television and called her.

“She was a very nice girl and didn’t deserve this. My thoughts and prayers go out to her family and her husband’s family,” Mrs. Mentch said.

A message left Tuesday afternoon at the Hawkes’ home was not returned.

The Rev. Ronald A. Rising, a neighbor in Cheshire, said he has known the family for more than 10 years.

“They’re just a lovely family,” he said. “It’s just awful to think it would happen to a family like that in this community. You don’t think about those things happening.”

Neighbor Laura Parisi, a friend of the Petits’ older daughter, Hayley, said the 17-year-old had just graduated from the prestigious Miss Porter’s School in Farmington and was accepted at Dartmouth.

“It’s just insane,” Parisi said of the deaths. “I can’t even describe it.”

Herald Staff Writer Monica Pryts contributed to this story.

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