Local News

An oral history of a horrific home invasion that still haunts a Connecticut suburb

This July 2007 file photo shows a fire-damaged portion of the William Petit home in Cheshire, Connecticut, where his wife Jennifer Hawke-Petit and daughters Hayley and Michaela were killed during a home invasion on July 23, 2007. AP Photo/Connecticut Judicial Branch, File

CHESHIRE, Conn. (AP) — It’s a day seared into the memories of all involved: The July 23, 2007, home invasion in which two paroled burglars broke into a Cheshire, Connecticut, home after dark, terrorized the family for hours and killed a woman and her two daughters.

The viciousness of the crime upended notions of suburban security, delayed the abolition of Connecticut’s death penalty, and became the subject of TV shows, documentaries and books. It drew comparisons to the 1959 killings portrayed in Truman Capote’s “In Cold Blood.”

Jennifer Hawke-Petit, 48, was strangled. Her daughters, 17-year-old Hayley and 11-year-old Michaela, were tied to their beds and died of smoke inhalation. Hawke-Petit and Michaela also were sexually assaulted. Hawke-Petit’s husband and the girls’ father, Dr. William Petit Jr., was beaten but survived.


The killers, Joshua Komisarjevsky and Steven Hayes, are serving life in prison. They originally were sentenced to death, but Connecticut abolished capital punishment in 2012.

Komisarjevsky picked Hawke-Petit and Michaela as targets when he saw them at a grocery store. He followed them to their home, left and later returned with Hayes.

The two broke in around 3 a.m., smashed Dr. Petit’s head with a baseball bat as he slept and tied him up in the basement. They tied the two girls to their beds. Later in the morning, Hayes drove Hawke-Petit to a bank, where she withdrew $15,000 under the threat of her family being harmed.

After Hawke-Petit and Hayes returned to the house, Hayes sexually assaulted and strangled her. Komisarjevsky had assaulted Michaela. The intruders poured gasoline around the house, including on or around the girls, set it on fire and fled in the Petits’ car after police had surrounded the home. They crashed into police cruisers down the street and were arrested.

Dr. Petit managed to free himself and escape out the cellar hatchway as fire consumed the house. He has re-married and was elected to the state House of Representatives in November.

No public remembrances have been announced this year. But as the 10th anniversary approaches, some recollections of that day:

Mary Lyons, bank branch manager

Lyons was working at the Bank of America branch in Cheshire when Hawke-Petit came to withdraw cash. Hayes had driven her to the bank and waited outside, with the threat that her family would be harmed if she didn’t get the money.


Lyons said Hawke-Petit did not have any identification, but told Lyons what was going on.

“She explained to me that her family was being held and as long as she got the money and got back to the house everybody would be OK,” Lyons said. “I just knew from the look on her face and the look in her eyes that she was telling the truth. Her eyes told me — a look from one mom to another mom.”

Lyons approved the transaction, and Hawke-Petit left with $15,000. Lyons called police.

Lyons, who retired in 2010, pays an annual visit to a memorial garden on the site of the Petits’ former home.

Cynthia Hawke-Renn, Hawke-Petit’s sister

Hawke-Renn was at home in North Carolina, getting annoyed. She was trying to plan a family beach vacation, and her sister wasn’t returning her messages.

Then came the call around 2 p.m. from Dr. Petit’s sister, Johanna Petit Chapman. Hawke-Renn immediately thought something bad, like a car accident, had happened.

“I said, ‘Is it the girls? Are they dead?'” she asked. “She said, ‘Yes. How did you know?'”

When Chapman explained what happened, Hawke-Renn did not believe it.

“I said to her, ‘Hanna, this sounds like a really sick dream,'” she said.


Hawke-Renn remembers screaming, “No, no, no.” Reality set in when she saw TV news reports at the airport on her way to her parents’ home in Pennsylvania.

Nearly every year on the anniversary, Hawke-Renn said she wakes around 3 a.m., about the time the killers broke into the Petits’ home. Over the next seven hours, she imagines her relatives’ suffering minute by minute.

“We have horrific grief,” she said. “It really does affect you in ways that are hard to describe to people. … It’s not easy to be anywhere on the anniversary date.”

A remembrance garden is in place where the house of the William Petit family once stood.

Bob Picozzi, former Petit neighbor

Picozzi drove by the Petits’ house on his way to work around 4:30 a.m., 90 minutes after Komisarjevsky and Hayes had broken into the house. Nothing seemed out of the ordinary.

His wife later called to tell him what happened. After work, he joined onlookers outside the Petit house, and then returned home in disbelief.

“I was just stunned,” he said. “I dropped my briefcase and I slumped into a chair next to me. I was devastated.”

Picozzi didn’t know the Petits well, but he said the murders were the worst thing that happened in his life.

“I learned a long time ago I will never ever get over this,” he said. “Instead, what I have to do is learn to live with it, and I’m still trying.”

Driving by the Petits’ property is a constant reminder, he said. He often thinks of what Hayley and Michaela might have been doing now.

Michael Milone, Cheshire town manager

Milone got a call from the deputy police chief that morning saying there was a potential hostage situation.


“As soon as I got off the phone, just about every apparatus we have — fire and police — went by my office,” he said.

His office and the police department received hateful emails for years after the murders from people upset about the police response. The Petits’ relatives and others have suggested police could have entered the home and saved the family.

“Our police did what they were trained to do,” Milone said.

After going to the scene that day and taking part in a news conference, Milone sat alone in his office, in shock.

“It was the most surreal experience I’ve ever had,” he said. “It was just horrible. It just sent a chill through everyone, especially because it’s a small community. It’s a safe community.”