Survivor of family slaying asks others to keep faith

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NEW BRITAIN, Conn. (AP) — Dr. William Petit Jr. still bore bruises and gashes as he urged mourners yesterday to “spread the work” of his wife and two young daughters, who were slain when burglars surprised them in their home.

Dr. Petit, the lone survivor of the violent attack, told thousands of friends and strangers who crowded the memorial service about his wife of 22 years, who was a nurse; his college-bound daughter; and his youngest, who was 11.

“I guess if there’s anything to be gained from the senseless deaths of my beautiful family, it’s for us all to go forward with the inclination to live with a faith that embodies action. Help a neighbor, fight for a cause, love your family,” Dr. Petit said.

“I’m really expecting all of you to go out and do some of these things with your family, in your own little way, to spread the work of these three wonderful women. Thank you,” he told the crowd.

Authorities say two men with long criminal histories broke into the Petits’ Cheshire home early Monday and held the family hostage for several hours. One forced Jennifer Hawke-Petit, 48, to make a withdrawal at a bank later that morning, triggering suspicion among bank employees, police said. Police rushed to the house, found it on fire and encountered the suspects fleeing. The two were arrested after crashing the Petits’ car into police cruisers.

Dr. Petit was severely beaten and bound in the basement, but managed to escape the fire. The bodies of his family were found in the smoldering home. Mrs. Hawke-Petit had been strangled, while Hayley, 17, and Michaela, 11, died of smoke inhalation.

Those who filled Central Connecticut State University’s 1,800-seat Welte Hall and still more at a side location yesterday heard stories about their vibrant spirits and their love for each other, their community and their strong faith.

“As much as we weep, as much as we mourn their loss, as much as we miss them, God weeps with us,” said Stephen Volpe, their pastor at Cheshire United Methodist Church.

The family is well-known in the state. Dr. Petit, 50, is the medical director of the Joslin Diabetes Center Affiliate at the Hospital of Central Connecticut in New Britain and president of the Hartford County Medical Association.

The suspects, 26-year-old Joshua Komisarjevsky of Cheshire and 44-year-old Steven Hayes of Winsted, were charged with capital felony, arson, sexual assault and other crimes. They could face the death penalty if convicted. Both had been released earlier this year from prison.

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