SPRINGFIELD — Richard Piirainen stood outside the Hall of Justice today, full of hope that the long search for the person who kidnapped and murdered his 10-year-old daughter, Holly, may finally be over.
“This is the lead we’ve all been waiting for,’’ Richard Piirainen told a small group of reporters. “We feel it’s the beginning of the end of this case.’’
Richard Piirainen was reacting to news of a “new forensic lead’’ that has linked a dead Springfield man to the 1993 killing of Holly Piirainen, whose skeletal remains were found in a wooded area of Brimfield three months after she disappeared from Sturbridge.
Richard Piirainen was on hand today when Hampden District Attorney Mark Mastroianni announced that the forensic connection to a dead man does not mean the investigation into the murder of the “beautiful, sweet, innocent’’ Piirainen is at an end.
Instead, Mastroianni said, the investigation is “ongoing.’’ Officials appealed to the public for information about the whereabouts of the dead man, whom Mastroianni identified as David E. Pouliot, during 1993, particularly on Aug. 5, 1993 when Piirainen disappeared without a trace.
Also joining Mastroianni today was Maureen Lemieux, Piirainen’s grandmother. The child was staying at Lemieux’s Sturbridge home with her father and siblings when she disappeared, leaving only one shoe behind for relatives and police to find.
Lemieux said that over the years, five or six other strong suspects emerged in the case that initially led to the hope that her granddaughter’s killer had been found — only to have the investigators conclude that they had not yet found the right person.
“It’s like a roller coaster ride. So it’s up and down,’’ Lemieux said. “We are hoping that this turns into something.’’
Lemieux added: “I’m 18 years older than I was then. I would like to see some results in my lifetime. … It would be wonderful. It would be the hopes of our dreams.’’
At the press conference, Mastroianni said one piece of evidence recovered in 1993 from the spot where Piirainen’s body was found was subjected to 21st-century forensic techniques — he did not specify what kind. The finding “indisputably’’ linked the recovered piece of evidence to Pouliot.
Mastroianni repeatedly said that Pouliot was not a suspect in Piirainen’s killing, but he said that investigators have learned that Pouliot frequented the Brimfield area — where the child’s body was discovered — while hunting and fishing.
“The nature of the item shows that either Mr. Pouliot, or people associated with him, were in this immediate area at the time relevant to Holly’s disappearance and the finding of her remains,’’ Mastroianni said.
He said it was possible that others associated with Pouliot may have a role in the child’s death. “We linked him forensically to the scene,’’ Mastroianni said. “But he is not a suspect.’’
Holly disappeared after she and her brother went to a neighbor’s house in Sturbridge to play with puppies. Her brother returned without her, and all that was found that summer afternoon was one of the girl’s red shoes. Three months later on Oct. 23, 1993, hunters found her skeletal remains in Brimfield, 5 miles from where she was last seen.
“She was a typical 10 year old. She wanted to be a marine biologist,’’ Lemieux said at the press conference. “She loved the water. She loved swimming. She loved being out in Sturbridge. … She was a lovable little girl and we miss her.’’
Mastroianni said he has shared information on the investigation into Piirainen’s killing but so far has found no direct link to the killing of Molly Bish, a 16-year-old lifeguard who vanished 11 years ago. Magi Bish, Molly’s mother, last saw her daughter on June 27, 2000, when she dropped the teen off at Comins Pond in Warren, where Molly was a lifeguard.
Bish’s remains were found three years later in a wooded area not far from the pond in Worcester County.
The Telegram and Gazette newspaper reported late last year that Worcester District Attorney Joseph Early Jr. was investigating whether a convicted rapist, Gerald Battistoni, has any connection to Bish’s murder.