Debra Bond, the health center's director, uses a key to unlock the closet door. She's silent as her fingers gently touch a black gown draped from a hanger, academic regalia once worn by Bond's colleague at graduations and other school events.
There are public displays at the health center to remind people of Jennifer-Hawke Petit, a nurse and former center director, and her two daughters, Hayley, 17, and Michaela, 11 — all three murdered inside their Cheshire home on July 23, 2007. Petit family photos hang on walls and a colorful memorial garden stretches across the front of the Richmond Health Center.
But there are the less-visible reminders, too, that show just how difficult it has been for those close to Hawke-Petit to let go. Her cap and gown. Her laugh on never-erased voice mails. E-mails she wrote, saved in in-boxes.
Bond, 45, also a nurse, lost a colleague and a friend when Hawke-Petit, 48, was killed. Some mistook the blonde-haired women for sisters. They talked about their families, books they liked to read, shared their love of God. Together they ran the health center, giving medical care and advice to students — many of them boarders with family miles away.
Today, Bond continues that work, at times with a heavy heart. Seeing Petit's handwriting in a student's medical chart makes her wistful. An 8-by-10 photo of Petit and Bond hangs on a wall above the desk they used to share, the desk where they grew close, each picking up details of the other's life — in Hawke-Petit's case, details now often overshadowed by the horrible circumstances of her final moments alive.
Those moments and other aspects of the Petit slayings have been the subject of widespread media coverage of the death-penalty prosecutions of Steven Hayes and Joshua Komisarjevsky, the two longtime criminals charged in the case. And they are sure to be examined in graphic detail in Hayes' trial, scheduled to begin Monday, which makes remembering Hawke-Petit in life — not death — seem even more vital to people like and Bond and her colleagues at the school.
"She had an impact on many lives," Bond says. "The students and staff here were her extended family. That's why this loss has been so devastating for so many people. Jen was one of those people you wait a whole lifetime to meet."
Working Side By Side
Jennifer Lynn Hawke was born in Morristown, N.J, on Sept. 26, 1958. She went to grammar school and high school in western Pennsylvania. In 1980, after graduating from Sharon School of Nursing in Sharon, Pa., Hawke took a job at the Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh, where she embraced a challenging role as a pediatric oncology nurse.
"She really loved that work," Bond says, recalling the hours the two would talk about the cancer patients they cared for, work they both did before their days at Cheshire Academy.
What made Hawke love it even more was the resident doctor who worked beside her in February 1981, Dr. William Petit Jr. The two talked for hours about their patients' diseases, their care and prognosis.
"Jen told me how brilliant he was," Bond says. "He was the smartest man she ever met. He was such a gifted physician and he had a wonderful bedside manner with his pediatric patients and their families."
Still, she didn't hesitate to let the resident doctor know when he needed improvement.
"Physicians think when they come out of medical school they know it all," Bond says with a laugh. "Well, Jen liked to tease Bill about how she had to teach him the right way to do blood pressure."
Eventually, Dr. Petit would ask Nurse Hawke out. It wasn't a typical first date. It came at a time when Petit's mother and father, William Petit Sr. and Barbara, traveled from Connecticut to visit their son in Pennsylvania. So Petit brought them along.
In 1982, Hawke — who loved the beach — moved to Florida to work at Sarasota Memorial Hospital and, a year later, to Rochester, N.Y., where she worked as a pediatric nurse at Strong Memorial Hospital.
On April 13, 1985, Hawke became Mrs. Petit during a ceremony at an historic church in Meadville, Pa. Hawke's father, Richard, a Methodist minister, performed the ceremony along with a chaplain the couple knew from the hospital in Rochester.