When the flames that engulfed a Sheffield home last week were extinguished by firefighters, authorities discovered tragedy.
Five people — including three young children — were found dead inside the dwelling.
Authorities announced a day later that the blaze was being investigated as a murder-suicide. Now the Berkshire District Attorney’s office says the circumstances indicate that 41-year-old Luke Karpinksi killed his wife, Justine Wilbur, and their three children before setting their home on fire and taking his own life.
“This investigation is complex and ongoing, but we have uncovered overwhelming evidence suggesting that Luke Karpinski killed his wife and children prior to committing suicide,” Berkshire District Attorney Andrea Harrington said in a statement on Monday.
Here’s what we know about the alleged quadruple murder-suicide.
What authorities say happened
The Sheffield police and fire departments responded just before 8 a.m. last Wednesday to calls for a structure fire at 1343 Home Road, according to the DA’s office.
“Several fire and mutual aid agencies responded and extinguished the flames,” the office said the day of the fire. “A primary search revealed the presence of a deceased individual. A secondary search revealed four additional individuals who were deceased.”
Harrington said Monday that Wilbur, 41, was found on the floor of the house with “a traumatic injury that appears to have occurred prior to the start of the fire.”
Karpinski is believed to have set fire to the home around 7:50 a.m. on Wednesday using an accelerant, according to authorities. Investigators found evidence of the substance in parts of the house, as well as two 20-pound propane tanks on the home’s upper floor.
That’s also where first responders found the bodies of the three children — 7-year-old twins Alex and Zoe and 3-year-old son Marek — and Karpinski, according to the DA’s office.
The Massachusetts State Police Crime Scene Services Section, forensic scientists assigned to the Massachusetts State Police Crime Laboratory, and the Massachusetts State Police Collision Analysis and Reconstruction Section were among the agencies that responded to the home.
“This is a comprehensive and ongoing investigation. Members of the State Police assigned to the Office of the State Fire Marshal and detectives from the State Police Detective Unit assigned to the Berkshire District Attorney’s Office are still combing through the scene and searching for evidence,” Harrington said in a statement on Thursday. “The scene is secure and there is no reason to believe that the public is endangered at this time.”
The causes of death for the family members were not available as of Monday, but Harrington said the five bodies were taken to Boston for autopsies by the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner.
What we know about the family
Kristen Wilbur told the Berkshire Eagle that her sister, Justine, and Karpinski started dating during their senior year at Wahconah Regional High School in Dalton.
Tom Callahan, who was vice principal at the high school at the time, told WRGB he remembered the couple as “good” and “nice kids.”
“Luke would stop in the office from time to time and just say hello,” he told the station. “They were both intelligent kids, and they would’ve struck anybody else as just positive on their life.”
The couple spent six years in Virginia but moved back to the Bay State in 2017, when they bought property in Sheffield, according to the Eagle. Kristen Wilbur told the newspaper that her sister and her family lived in a trailer on the land at 1343 Home Road while they completed their new house.
“They called it a carriage house,” Kristen Wilbur told the newspaper. “The plan was eventually to build a larger house.”
December was their first month in the new dwelling, she said.
“They were smart, intelligent, good people — and good parents,” she said. “And the kids were so cute.”
Justine Wilbur was an attorney at Hoffman Warnick in Albany, New York. The company, which released a statement following her death, said the mother of three joined them in 2017.
“Justine was smart, knowledgeable, dedicated and hardworking,” the company said. “She was a devoted mother to her wonderful children, and a true friend to everyone in our firm. We are each devastated by loss and extraordinary sadness, but are comforted and grateful for having shared Justine’s infectious spirit and energy. We pray for her family and those who loved her.”
According to the Eagle, Karpinski worked from the home as a federal chemical patent examiner.
His father, Paul Karpinski, told The Boston Globe that the family hasn’t been “told anything” about the investigation.
“Our family continues to give no comment because we have no official answers,” Tess Karpinski, Luke Karpinski’s cousin, told the Eagle. “Both families are in shock and disbelief. We ask for respect from the public, and time for the family, friends and acquaintances to grieve the sudden loss of a great loving family.”
Kristen Wilbur told the Eagle she also hadn’t been given much information.
How the community has reacted
On Saturday, members of the Sheffield community gathered for an interfaith prayer service and dinner aimed at healing following the week’s events.
The deaths of the family on Home Road followed the news that a Sheffield native, 24-year-old Samya Stumo, was among the 157 killed in a plane crash in Ethiopia. A 19-year-old from Sheffield was also killed in a recent car crash.
“We gather because this week has been too much to bear,” Rev. Erik Karas, of Christ Trinity Church, said during the event, according to the Eagle. “Regardless of the circumstances of these events both near and far, these horrors have left families, friends, and neighbors in our world stunned and in shock.”
Jim Collingwood, 91, who lives near Home Road told the Globe the family of five “never mixed with anybody” and that he rarely saw them on the street to the town’s center.
“For something to happen like that,” he told the newspaper. “They’ve got to do a lot of investigating because things like that just don’t happen.”
Heather Barney, an employee at the variety store downtown, told the Globe that news of the apparent murder-suicide was “devastating.”
“You never expect it to happen in a small town like ours where everybody is interconnected and close,” she said. “We feel horrible for the kids. You hear stories of people harming children, and it’s disgusting.”