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2 bodies found at Saugus school

Lynn mother, 54, and older woman brutally beaten

By Peter Schworm, Brian R. Ballou and Kathy McCabe
Globe Staff / May 2, 2012
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SAUGUS - In a mysterious double killing, the bodies of a 54-year-old Lynn woman and an elderly female relative were found behind an elementary school shortly after dawn Tuesday, unnerving residents of this quiet suburban neighborhood.

Through fingerprint records, authorities identified one of the victims as Donna Breau, a mother of four. Authorities did not identify the second victim, described as an elderly woman and as a close relative of Breau’s.

An upstairs neighbor said Breau lived on the second floor of a three-family home on Sheridan Street with her son. Her mother, a woman in her 80s named Melba Trahant, lived one floor below. Neighbors and friends said Tuesday that they had not seen Trahant and feared she was the other victim.

Breau’s next-door neighbor, Kathy Sisson, said she was in shock.

“I don’t know who would do this to Donna,’’ she said. “She would give you the shirt off her back.’’

A neighbor, Peter Bourgeois, said Breau had a history of substance abuse. Online records from the Florida Department of Law Enforcement showed that from 1996 to 2000, Breau had a lengthy arrest record in that state and had been charged with drug crimes and credit card theft. The outcomes of those criminal cases were not immediately available.

Bourgeois described Breau as a quiet person who stayed home most nights and said he was stunned by her violent death.

“Seriously, this is bad,’’ the 66-year-old said. “I wouldn’t have expected that to happen to her.’’

Police made no arrests Tuesday and identified no suspects. Two officials familiar with the investigation said the bodies were badly beaten and left beneath a tarp. The officials declined to be identified for attribution because they were not authorized to speak about the case.

The medical examiner is scheduled to conduct autopsies Wednesday to determine the cause of death and confirm the identity of the older victim.

About 6:45 Tuesday morning, a custodian found the bodies behind Lynnhurst Elementary School in Saugus, about 4 miles from Breau’s home in East Lynn. Authorities would not say how the women died, but said their deaths were violent.

“I would say they are victims of foul play,’’ Jonathan W. Blodgett, Essex district attorney, said at the scene.

The bodies were found in a grassy area behind the school and beside a gray trailer that serves as a fifth-grade classroom. The area is visible from the backyards of several residences.

Authorities would not say whether it appeared the women were killed at the school or if their bodies were brought there.

The bodies were discovered shortly before students began arriving Tuesday; school was canceled for the day.

Found in plain sight and in the unlikeliest of places, the bodies went unidentified for hours even as authorities asked for the public’s help. Late in the day, authorities named Breau as a victim.

The discovery of the bodies and the mystery around the killings shocked residents in the close-knit neighborhood near the school, not far from Route 1.

“This whole thing just seems so surreal,’’ said Ann Salzillo, 45, whose three children go to Lynnhurst, just as she did. “We’re in shock that it happened, so close to home.’’

Salzillo’s father, Bob Sacco, a retired art teacher who now substitutes, described the discovery as frightening.

“Awfully close,’’ he said.

Lee Johnson, a 79-year-old who has lived next to the school his entire life, said it was the kind of neighborhood where families stay for generations. His daughter, for instance, just bought a house nearby, and her best friend moved in the next street over.

“It would make anyone nervous,’’ said David Liuzza, parent of a Lynnhurst School student.

In Lynn, Bourgeois, who has lived in the brown-shingled home for almost 20 years, said he told police he had not heard any commotion Monday beyond a knock on Breau’s apartment door.

He expressed sympathy for Trahant, calling her a “very pleasant lady.’’

“She pretty much just stayed at home,’’ he said, saying her health seemed to be in decline.

Breau relocated to Texas for a short period before returning to Lynn, he said.

He said Trahant told him recently that there were problems between Breau and a daughter, who recently moved to Massachusetts from Colorado.

He said he didn’t know anyone who would want to hurt Breau.

“She didn’t seem worried or scared of anyone,’’ Bourgeois said.

Sisson, the next-door neighbor, said she had known Breau since seventh grade. Breau suffered from heart and asthma problems, she said.

Trahant used to work as a custodian in Lynn and volunteered at a local thrift shop, she said.

Sisson came home from work in the late afternoon to find her street blocked by police cruisers and crime scene tape.

“I almost had a heart attack,’’ she said. “Whoever did this to them did it in their home. It’s very scary. I can’t imagine anyone who would do this to them.’’

On Breau’s Facebook page, where she identified herself as Donna Trahant, friends mourned her death.

“This is so tragic and meaningless,’’ one friend wrote, describing Breau and her mother as “wonderful, beautiful women inside and out.’’

“Please please please tell me it’s a mistake,’’ she added. “Please.’’

Earlier in the day, friends who had seen police at Breau’s house left messages of concern, not knowing what had happened.

“Is everything alright??’’ one wrote. “The cops were hanging all around your area today.’’

“Donna you OK??????’’ wrote another.

On a reunion registry for adoptees, a woman who identified herself as Donna Trahant, born in 1957 as Donna St. Germaine, wrote that she was searching for a Lynn family who “would possibly be part of my biological family.’’ She identified a woman who “knew and worked with’’ Trahant.

“I would like to know more about them and me and how I fit in this world,’’ she wrote. “I would like to stop feeling so alone.’’

Globe correspondents Alli Knothe, Katherine E. Landergan, and Zachary T. Sampson contributed to this report. Peter Schworm can be reached at schworm@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @globepete.

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