With two trials of his family's killers now behind him, Dr. William Petit Jr., the lone survivor of the 2007 Cheshire home invasion, plans to marry again.
In an email Wednesday, Petit, 55, said no date has been set for his marriage to Christine Paluf. Petit's mother, Barbara Petit, said the couple became engaged after Christmas.
"I am absolutely thrilled for him," said Ann Baldwin, Petit's friend. "After so much tragedy in his life, my hope is that he will again find happiness in this relationship."
Baldwin, a former television reporter and anchor who now runs her own public relations firm, said she met Petit after the slayings when he would on occasion seek advice and guidance from her on how to handle media matters. Baldwin said she met Paluf when Paluf was photographing and attending Petit Family Foundation events.
"She has a true understanding of where he's been," Baldwin said. "I think this is hopefully going to be a new beginning for him."
Petit's wife, Jennifer Hawke-Petit, 48, and their daughters, Hayley, 17, and Michaela, 11, were killed during the July 2007 break-in and arson at their Cheshire home.
Steven Hayes was convicted in November 2010 of raping and killing Hawke-Petit and killing the daughters. He was sent to death row the following month.
This fall, a separate Superior Court jury convicted Joshua Komisarjevsky of raping and killing Michaela and killing her sister and mother. The jury also decided in December that he should be sentenced to death. During the trial, jurors listened to an audiotape of Komisarjevsky telling police how he and Hayes broke into the Petit home and how he beat Petit with a baseball bat. Komisarjevsky detailed how he tied Hawke-Petit, Hayley and Michaela to their beds and sexually assaulted Michaela.
Komisarjevsky is scheduled to be sentenced Jan. 27.
Paluf attended the Komisarjevsky trial with Petit and members of his family.
Cindy Hawke-Renn, Hawke-Petit's sister, said the couple has been dating since the summer. Hawke-Renn said Paluf's "down-to-earth" and "jovial" personality has helped change her brother-in-law from a man of despair to a man of hope.
"There's been a huge change in him," Hawke-Renn said Wednesday during a telephone interview from her North Carolina home. "He sees a reason to be happy again, a reason for joy in his life. He still has sad days, periods of sad days, but she helps him with that. She is uplifting, and it makes you want to be around her."
During the Komisarjevsky trial, Hawke-Renn and her parents shared meals and went to church with Petit and Paluf. They also attended a Quinnipiac University hockey game. At the game, Hawke-Renn said, she turned to Petit and said, "So, when am I going to dance at your wedding?"
"He looked at me and said, 'I don't know, maybe next year sometime.' I was like, 'Yay!'" Hawke-Renn said. "It felt good to be included, knowing that he really wanted us to meet her, that it was important to him that we knew what a wonderful person he thinks she is."
Last month, after jurors decided Komisarjevsky should die for his crimes, Petit said that there's "never complete closure when you lose a wife and family," but that there's "a little peace [now] that this part of the grind is over."
Petit, a well-known physician who stopped practicing medicine after the slayings, said he looked forward to trying to get back "to some sort of a normal life. ... It's an enticing prospect."
A year earlier, at Hayes' sentencing in 2010, Petit said that he had a difficult time trusting people and rarely thought beyond the hope and dreams of honoring his family.
"As many of you may suspect, I seriously considered suicide many times — no wife, no children, no home and no interest in life in general," Petit told the court.
Since that court hearing, Petit has worked vigorously with his sister, Johanna Petit Chapman, to convince Connecticut legislators not to vote to repeal the death penalty. At Komisarjevsky's trial, Petit appeared stronger than he did at the Hayes trial and was outspoken about the need for victims' rights.
Hawke-Renn admitted that at first she had a tough time adjusting to the idea that there could someday be another Mrs. Petit. But she said she always encouraged her brother-in-law to find love again. She said Paluf texted her on New Year's Eve that they had become engaged.
"I know that he would love and entertain the idea of having another family someday. I know a family would give him so much joy," she said. "Life is too long and lonely to go it alone."
Hawke-Renn also said those who have followed the widely publicized Cheshire home invasion case for more than four years would want to hear the engagement news.
"It's nice to let people know that even after such heartache, joy can be returned to you."