WEST HARTFORD—A state trooper shot and killed his ex-girlfriend, a Newington police officer, then turned the gun on himself in a murder-suicide Monday evening.
Ciara McDermott, 30, was found dead around 6:30 p.m. in her house at 348 Ridgewood Road. Sources said she was killed by state Trooper Victor Diaz, who was scheduled to turn himself in to West Hartford police earlier Monday on charges he harassed McDermott.
Diaz's body was discovered about two hours later, after police called off a manhunt for Diaz and re-entered the home, sources said. It was not clear where Diaz's body was found in the house or why it wasn't found when police originally responded.
Law enforcement sources said McDermott's body was discovered by a West Hartford police officer who she had started dating recently.
Diaz had been serving a 60-day suspension from his job, the most serious penalty short of firing, following his arrest in March on a DUI charge. He had been ordered to turn his gun in to state police. It was not clear what weapon he used in the shooting on Monday. Diaz had been arrested by Cromwell police after a chase last March.
Diaz's car was found a short distance from McDermott's home, in Wolcott Park off New Britain Avenue. Police believe that Diaz parked the car away from the house so he wouldn't be spotted and then walked to McDermott's house.
McDermott was the school resource officer in Newington. She was just at Newington High School Monday to provide grief counseling to students mourning the death of Brendan Horan, 17, a high school senior who died Friday night in an all-terrain vehicle accident. Students gathered late Monday to hold a vigil to remember Horan, but it also turned into a memorial for McDermott.
McDermott had been with the department since August 1998. Her father, Peter McDermott, is a former West Hartford police officer and retired Windsor police captain who now works at the Municipal Police Training Academy.
Late Monday, a Newington school bus dropped off about 40 officers, some in uniform, some not. They walked quietly and slowly in two straight lines toward McDermott's home, then stood at attention and saluted the tan Colonial house. The officers afterward walked quietly back to the bus.
The incident marked the second time in the past year that a Newington police officer has died at the hands of a gunman who then shot and killed himself.
Last December, Peter Lavery, 47, a father of two, was fatally shot while answering a domestic complaint. The veteran officer and Berlin resident was shot at a Mountain View Drive home by Bruce A. Carrier, who committed suicide during a standoff with police.
On Monday, police initially had believed that Diaz was at large in the area of Ridgewood Road near Westfarms mall in the southwest corner of town. A state police helicopter was brought in to assist in the manhunt.
Police closed off several area roads and locked down Conard High School as a precaution. About 200 to 300 people were at the school for a pre-production meeting for the play "Annie" at Sedgwick Middle School.
Local and state police also waited for Diaz at what was believed to be his home on Sheffield Drive in Windsor.
Sources familiar with the case said Diaz, who worked at the Troop H barracks in Hartford, recently had learned that McDermott was dating another officer.
McDermott had complained to state and local police that Diaz was harassing her by making threatening calls.
Sources said West Hartford police had an arrest warrant charging Diaz with illegally accessing state police records to run a license plate of a car he saw in McDermott's driveway. Ment, Diaz's lawyer, would not comment when reached late Monday.
Police evacuated Newington Town Hall as a security precaution, and two local board meetings were canceled. Newington Town Manager Paul Fetherston was grim and clearly upset that a second police officer has been killed in less than a year.
"We are all upset that it has happened again," said Fetherston. "Our concerns and our priorities are with our police department, the family of the slain officer and our residents."
School Superintendent Ernest Perlini called McDermott "a beautiful person. She was sensitive with our students."
Students who gathered in a Newington High School parking lot late Monday were saddened and shocked, and visibly upset that instead of mourning just one, they were mourning two.
"I just talked to her today and she told me I could call her anytime," said Gina Nardi, a junior at the school who had been one of many students to meet with McDermott following Horan's accident.
"I feel like this is not real," said Nicole Dehaas, a sophomore at the school who, like many others, struggled not to cry as they hugged other students who arrived at the parking lot. "We were supposed to be here to mourn Brendan, now we are mourning Officer McDermott too."
"Two lives lost in three days, this is not good," Nardi said.
When word of McDermott's death circulated among the group, students spray painted a white bed sheet with a memorial message in her honor and hung it on a chain link fence next to another that hung in Horan's memory.
"Mcdermott R.I.P.," it read. "We [love] you. 11-21-05."
"It's a terrible thing, terrible," was all that new Mayor Rodney Mortensen could say. "Who could imagine that the department would lose another officer in such a short period of time. This is devastating."
Police officers scurried in and out of the police department building that was just named in memory of Lavery.
"I can't talk about it," said one officer, who refused to give his name as he ran into the building to join a growing crowd of fellow officers at the building. "This is a nightmare and clearly a terrible loss for the community."
Those who knew McDermott described her as a qualified police officer who loved her job.
"She was a good kid and always did a good job. The kids got along with her well and she helped a lot of kids out with a lot problems," said John DiNardi, a retired police officer who worked with McDermott for several years. "She always considered the high school kids her kids. She always took an intense interest in their lives."
Before working in Hartford, Diaz had worked as a resident state trooper in Colchester for several years, supplementing the town's small police force.
After he left Colchester and went to the Hartford barracks, Diaz began having problems, including the drunken driving arrest in which he fought with police officers.
"Obviously, he had some issues. I think that says something when you fight with other cops," one trooper said.
State police union President David LeBlanc said, "Everybody is in absolute shock right now." He fielded dozens of calls from troopers Monday night.
McDermott was sworn in as a Newington police officer in August 1998 - one of four new officers who had completed a 20-week training course at the Connecticut Police Academy in Meriden.
A Fairfield University graduate, McDermott said at the time that she began thinking at age 12 or 13 of becoming a police officer. She cited as her "inspiration" her father.
A year earlier, McDermott was one of five college students chosen to recite their own poetry by judges in the Connecticut Poetry Circuit. She wrote of women's lives and intermingled farm images gleaned from her rural Durham childhood.
She purchased 348 Ridgewood Road this year, according to town land records.
Peter McDermott didn't try to discourage his daughter from becoming an officer, said James Noonan, an instructor at the police academy.
"You know, it was the typical reaction from a father. If that's what she wanted to do, he supported it," Noonan said. "We are always worried about ours and all the rest."
William Knapp, retired director of the training academy, said McDermott was proud of his daughter, and spoke of her often.
"She's such a nice girl, a nice person. She's the human side of law enforcement," Knapp said. "I got a son who is a cop too. Of course, you worry.
"But she didn't die because she's a cop. She's a crime victim."
This story was reported by Courant Staff Writers Dave Altimari, Maryellen Fillo, Tracy Gordon Fox, Christine Dempsey, Edmund Mahony, Larry Smith, Daniela Altimari, Grace Merritt and Peter Downs.