Cheshire Residents Make New, Profound Connections

Is it possible to change what comes to mind merely by saying just a single word?

Cheshire.

Across Connecticut and beyond, this town's name now conjures up the worst: home invasion, senseless death, a ruined family, failed justice. But what if — by human will and hard work — this word could begin to suggest something else?

It is a valiant effort that residents of Cheshire are deeply involved in, almost one year after the sickening crime that left three much-loved town residents tortured and dead.

Could the plea from Dr. William Petit, days after the murder of his wife, Jennifer, and children, Hayley and Michaela, a year ago, instead become what we think about when we think about Cheshire?

"Help a neighbor. Fight for a cause," Petit told mourners at an emotional memorial service last July. "Love your family."

A town's healing, and Petit's plea, are complicated — and for some, deeply religious — questions. Is there more good than evil? How does the positive arise from the absolute worst?

Petit family friend Ron Riser, an ordained United Church of Christ minister, warned me to be careful. "The pain is never going to be gone for a lot of us."

But Riser, with a lifetime of trauma and grief counseling, sees something else. Like a brain rewiring after a stroke, people are making new, profound connections in this community.

"People who never knew them feel touched by this."



The Petit family house on Sorghum Mill Drive has been razed, replaced by a large heart-shaped flower garden not yet finished. It is an odd grassy knoll in an inviting and orderly Connecticut neighborhood of big houses and deep lawns, tall shade trees and backyard swimming pools with rippling blue water.

All is the same. Everything has changed.

"There is this shared history now that we didn't have before," Janet Ray explained to me when we spoke about how this last year has unfolded.

Ray, a mother of two, taught Sunday school with Jennifer Petit and is a member of a United Methodist Church congregation forever altered by the Petit tragedy.

"I am more fearful," she said, telling me of children unable to sleep and her fervent desire to place the good and bad in the proper context.

"Most people are good," Ray said, a hint of uncertainty in her voice. "There are these aberrations of evil."

Then Ray told me a story about how her neighbors began walking their children to school in the months after the Petit murders. It has spontaneously become a morning ritual and opened her eyes to people — and lives — she never knew about before.

"We are bound," she said.

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