PEMBROKE — A hearing- and speech-impaired man with a history of mental illness was in court Thursday to answer charges of assault to murder after allegedly dousing his girlfriend’s two daughters with gasoline and attempting to ignite a propane tank inside their home.
“He really could have blown up not just his house but this whole area here,’’ said a neighbor who was among several neighbors interviewed who declined to give their names.
On Wednesday afternoon, a wave of panic swept over the street as firefighters pulled up to the house at 39 Birch St. and police attempted to negotiate with William Rearick, 45, who was still inside, after the girls’ mother got them out of the house.
In an abuse protection order filed in Plymouth District Court after the incident, Rearick’s girlfriend, Lisa Newton, said the day had begun with a morning argument between the two. Prosecutors declined to say what the argument was about.
“I am in fear for my family,’’ Newton wrote in the affidavit seeking the protection order.
Newton went to work and returned to the house about 3:06 p.m. to find her daughters in their first-floor bedroom soaked in gasoline and Rearick, who is unemployed, in the cellar, according to the abuse protection order affidavit. Newton rushed the girls outside.
After several minutes of negotiations between Rearick and police, he surrendered. He was arrested and taken to Jordan Hospital in Plymouth for evaluation before being arraigned in Plymouth District Court Thursday morning.
Rearick was held without bail and was ordered to undergo a mental competency evaluation before his next court appearance, a dangerousness hearing on Feb. 6.
In addition to two assault-to-murder charges, he was charged with assault and battery with a dangerous weapon and other offenses.
His attorney, Liam Scully, pleaded not guilty on his behalf.
There are no prior restraining orders or cases against Rearick on record in Plymouth District Court, according to officials in the clerk’s office.
Rearick had moved into the house, which is Newton’s permanent residence, several years ago, according to neighbors who know the family. They said they did not know the age of the girls, but thought they were in their teens.
It was unclear how Rearick spent his day prior to the alleged assaults and whether the girls had attended school, but in the afternoon, he walked inside the house minutes before Newton came home. Rearick carried a gasoline can and propane tank and indicated that he was going to kill himself, police said.
Newton’s oldest daughter tried to call 911, but Rearick grabbed her and pushed her and took the phone, according to the police report contained in court records.
Rearick then doused the girls with gasoline and poured the liquid all over the kitchen floor.
The oldest daughter tried to grab the lighter, but Rearick clutched her by the throat and pushed her, according to the report.
The girls managed to fight him off. The older girl told her sister to run into the bedroom and call 911, according to the police report.
When police arrived, they found the two girls standing in the driveway with their mother and Rearick still inside the house, sitting on the edge of a bed in the cellar with the propane tank between his legs and a cigarette lighter in his hand, according to the report.
He appeared highly agitated and flicked the lighter several times, causing the officers to back off.
One officer noticed a photograph hanging in the hallway of longtime Pembroke Youth Hockey president and coach Fred Flipp, who died about two years ago. The house is owned by his widow, Pamela, according to the police report.
The officer took the photo off the wall and gestured to Rearick indicating that he knew Flipp, which seemed to calm Rearick down, the officer noted in his report.
Scott DeYoung, described as Rearick’s brother-in-law, walked into the house and approached Rearick, at the direction of police, according to the police report.
DeYoung starting communicating with Rearick in sign language, as an officer and Police Chief Richard Wall stood nearby.
The standoff then ended with Rearick giving up, according to police.
Several neighbors described Rearick as a man who was attentive to Newton’s daughters, seeing them to the school bus stop in the mornings and generally spending time with them. Rearick would often be seen in the yard, raking or cutting the grass, they said.
Residents said the girls used sign language to communicate with Rearick.