Monday, July 30, 2007
Home-invasion story steals sleep
CHESHIRE, Connecticut -- The home invasion and murder of three family members in this Connecticut town earlier this month is one of the most heinous crimes I have ever covered. A family tied up and beaten, the mother strangled to death, and the youngest daughter, just 11, apparently raped before both daughters were tied to their beds and left to die in the fire allegedly set by the suspects, according to police. The details are enough to make your stomach turn. I've been to the scene, interviewed family members and police. Today, I am going to interview friends of the youngest suspect, Joshua Komisarjevsky.

We see a lot of terrible stuff in this business, but there are those stories that are so dark and the crimes so senseless that they hang with you for a while. This attack on the Petit family is one that I haven't been able to shake. I had never met them, yet feel like I know them after talking to so many people who did. No doubt, they were special and giving, kind and generous, as everyone tells me. I can't get a family photo out of my head -- all of them smiling, 17-year-old Hayley ready to head off to Dartmouth this fall, just like her dad did years ago.

I haven't had a good night's sleep since I wrote my first story on this last Tuesday. I find myself double- and triple-checking the locks on my doors and windows. And I'm not the only one.

Just last week, one of my senior producers, who hasn't even been to the crime scene, told me that he left for work the other day and as he was pulling out of his driveway, went back and double-checked to make sure he'd locked the front door to protect his wife and kids inside. My sister told me she finds herself looking more closely at people in her neighborhood, at random construction workers and delivery guys. Are they there to do no good? Haven't we all wondered that about someone at some point in our lives? Don't you wish it didn't have to be this way?

This is how it is, though, at least for a while, until the next terrible event shakes us out of this gruesome fog and transports us into the next one. And with all the creeps that we read about and report on in this business, it's just a matter of time until something else happens. Knowing that doesn't exactly help me sleep at night.

-- By Randi Kaye, CNN Correspondent
Posted By CNN: 5:14 PM ET
  18 Comments
Hi Randi,
No matter how I twist and turn the facts of this family's fate, I just can't figure out what safety measures and precautions they could have taken to prevent such an attack.
THis is the reason why I think that child-molestors and career criminal parolees should be clearly identified in a community and the police has the responsibility to notify the community.
Posted By Ratna, New York, NY : 5:42 PM ET
Hey Randi,
This story is really freaky. The thing that is the scariest is that this could happen anytime,anywhere, to anybody. This seems to be a sign of the times with the perilous conditions we live in.
Is it because of our current state of our government, world affairs or just too many people producing too many people with no way to care for them? Probably all of the above.
I check the doors and sometimes I get freaky and double check the windows and even under the beds and CARS but in reality we know that if someone wants to get us, they can. It is such a frightening world we live in that I just block the anxiety of worry out of my mind.
I hope they catch the evil person or persons who comitted this heinous crime. I wonder if they knew their killer?
The world is sick and getting sicker. If we are not killer each other we are killing the planet. I fear the disease is terminal for the human race~ :-(
Posted By Betty Ann, Nacogdoches,TX : 5:47 PM ET
Dear Randi,

Sorry to hear that you have been losing precious sleep over this piece, however, I completely understand the reasoning.

As someone who is fortunate to live in a very safe small town, I well remember when it was not necessary to lock my door at night. Of course I still did - but it is a safe neighborhood and when I would forget, I would not lose sleep over it.

I awoke one morning to crime tape stretched around my block. A young man had gotten very drunk and disturbed and killed most of his family, literally right in my backyard. It was horrible, yes, but it also made me realize that we just never know, it can truly happen at anytime, anywhere and to anyone.

We all need to be thankful for each and every day we are blessed with and each and every person in our lives. Sadly, we live in a world that is so transient, we just never know from one day to the next what will occur.

Randi, I truly hope that you and your crew are able to get some sleep and we thank you for the sacrifices that you have made to tell this story and to hopefully help to bring justice and some light to a very dark situation.

Frankly, it should not have to be this way. But we also must face the grim reality and make adjustments in our lives to keep ourselves and our families safe.

All The Best.
Posted By Pati McMillan, Camp Hill, PA : 6:01 PM ET
There are a lot of twisted and perverted people out there, and this crime bothers many of us because we realize no matter what precautions we take, no matter what neighborhood we live in, and no matter what our economic situation is, this type of crime could happen to any of us.

For the life of me, I cannot understand how one human being could do something like this to another human being. What has gone wrong in their minds to unleash such sick violence?

But this is the world we find ourselves in. Instead of fighting the elements of nature to find a secure life, we are fighting human depravity found in some of our fellow human beings.
Posted By Joseph Kowalski, North Huntingdon, PA : 6:26 PM ET
Randi,

I can only imagine how awful it must be to cover such a horrendous story. The feelings you describe we can all identify with.

In the limited space I have here, I would just like to say that I think that people like these alleged murderers are in my mind, a kind of mutant, an aberration, because in general, I do believe in the fundamental decency of the human species. Let's face it, if crimes like this happened every day, they wouldn't make it to CNN. That doesn't mean we shouldn't take every day precautions to help ensure our safety. Yes, I ought to be able to walk down the street naked, leave my keys in my car, and no one should bother me. But I don't do those things because I believe in moderation. We can't live in constant fear, distrusting every stranger. That is not the kind of life I wish to live. I think those who want to help their neighbor are far greater in number than those who might want to kill him.
Posted By Barbara, Culver City, CA : 7:27 PM ET
Hi Randi,
Unfortunately, the two things that did this will probably never feel any remorse. How heartbreaking for the husband and father of the murder victims. Hope you're doing okay. What tragedy to report.
Posted By Carol B., Frederick, MD : 8:20 PM ET
Randi: I can only hope that there will never be another terrible event like this one! Burglars turned to killing is just one interesting aspect of this story that I would like to understand better.

We may be all paranoid about locking our doors and windows now but it can't possibly be as bad as what the father must be going through. My prayers go out to him as he continues through his recovery.
Posted By Jolene, St. Joseph, MI : 8:24 PM ET
While this family's story is tragic, I wonder if part of the reason this story is getting so much coverage compared to the continuing tragedies of inner-city violence doesn't go to the racism/class stereotypes that still exist. Yes, I am sure a large part of reason for the Petit family coverage is that it happened in an area where you "don't expect it." I think Philadelphia is now up to well over 240 murders this year, including three people murdered in a bar on a recent summer weekend when six people were found killed in total that weekend. These tragedies should be equal, but the coverage they get often is not. I just hope it doesn't take the murders of some middle-class white folks--or, as some sleazy folks in the news business might prefer, a little blonde girl-- to get people's attention in Philly.

My friend and I were talking about this murder last night as we walked around our town. She and her husband lived in Chester, PA (not to be confused with WEST Chester; Chester is sort of a mini-version of Philly when it comes to crime) for awhile and I lived in New York City, so we have the big-city mentality and always lock our doors in this town of 18,000, but some people here still don't. I had a scare a few weeks back with a guy who kept following me (hiding and then popping out three times), even after I told him very loudly and in no uncertain terms to leave me alone (I wound up stopping in a pizza place that was about to close three times--thank God they were still open-- and calling the cops that last time, when it was much more than my gut feeling that this guy was bad news). I now carry pepper spray when I walk at night, even in this small town, which is something I naively thought I would not need. Speaking of which, as a gal who gets approached by guys a lot just while walking down the street, here's my plea to all of you decent guys out there: offer your number instead of being so pushy about getting ours (if we like you, we'll call) and don't ask whether we live alone (not something we really need you to know until we start dating you). Alas, if I could just meet the right guy (you know, one who is not a potential rapist) while walking down the street...

I am not sure which is sadder: that we seem to expect (and, to a certain extent, accept) it when crime happens in an inner-city area or that it only still shocks us when it is in small towns. Actually, the worst thing, as my own scare showed me, is that we need to expect danger everywhere.

Carrying the pepper spray is both reassuring in terms of personally feeling safe, and upsetting in that it is even needed in the first place.

BTW, when you cover these stories at 360, I hope you can put them into more context and talk about some of the root causes of crime, in addition to what can be done about it. Perhaps you can have a forum with mayors, police commissioners/officers, educators, and community activists from some of the major cities to discuss these issues. You can have a real in-depth discussion, and air segments on different sub-topics on consecutive nights.

Peace on our streets and in our towns.
Posted By Norah, West Chester, PA : 8:46 PM ET
Hi Randi,
Every man, woman, and child is at risk of being a crime victim, 24 hours a day. I guess that's the first step, to let that reality sink in. We don't live in a world anymore were we can assume our safety is a given. It isn't. My thoughts and prayers go out to this family and their friends. What a terrible loss.
Posted By Lorie Ann, Buellton, Calif. : 10:01 PM ET
Randi:
This story completely horrified me. These criminals should be put to death.
You never think about how close some of us are to becoming victims ourselves.
A few years ago before I bought my house, I lived in an apartment in a very good area of Baton Rouge. One weekend, my sister's husband had to leave town on business and I was staying with her because she was afraid of being alone. There had been a string of unsolved kidnappings and rapes at that time. The very night I left my apartment to go to my sister's house, a woman was kidnapped, along with her young sister,one building away from MY apartment building. She was forced to withdraw money from her checking account and then raped. The rapist took her to an isolated area past the Mississippi River bridge, raped her and then returned her and her younger sister to the apartment complex. For years, it was hard to think about the fact that it could have been me. All she did was walk from her apartment to her car that night. I did the very same thing that night, just minutes before she did. I don't think any of us are ever safe, even in our own homes.
I've been thinking a lot lately about what this family went through in their final minutes alive and it makes me so angry and sad. I hope these two criminals die a horrible death.
Posted By Debbie, Denham Springs, LA : 10:13 PM ET
Hey Randie,

Even here,there seems to be more and more home invasions and more violent also.
One of them was near my house and the owner was killed. It is scary. And it often happens in "perfect little neighborhoods"like where I live. It just goes to prove we are never as safe as we think.
I was robbed 6 years ago. We weren't there,but,I always checked everything before leaving or before going to sleep. You feel violated,finding all your stuff either missing and/or upside down. More than the missing things it was my sense of security that I lost that day. I remember washing every piece of clothes they toussed out everywhere.
ANd 12 years ago,pregnant with my son,we came into the house while a burglar was in the house,I had a feeling someone was there,he finally ran through the basement window. The police told me "Don't worry mam,they rarely rape women in home invasion"?!?!?And a co-worker was the victim of a home-invasion last month,she was punched around and the police told her"Well,a woman living alone out here" like she was asking for it!When people who are supposed to protect you tell women such stupidities how reassuring is that!
Joanne R.
Laval Quebec
Posted By Joanne R.Laval Quebec : 11:20 PM ET
You're so right Randi. This crime did indeed linger. Even though we live in such a violent world that we sometimes become immune to the brutal stories that fill our headlines, this was different. The idea of those men breaking into the home at 3 a.m. and terrorizing the family for hours on end made me look out the window at my own quiet neighborhood in a different light, wondering if -- hoping that -- everything was as peaceful as it seemed.

I followed the security tips 360 gave out last week and have not only been sleeping with the panic button (car remote) by my own bed, but emailed my mother and told her to do the same thing. Following your report last week, I turned off the noisy icemaker on my fridge, because I didn't want to awake startled by the sound in the wee hours of the night, even though I've had that darn refrigerator for 2 years now!

It makes no sense to "rate" murders, yet the mind does. Compared to what the Petits lived through, dying in a drive-by shooting almost seems like a "merciful" ending. I'm usually a staunch supporter of the right to a fair trial. In this case however, all of that goes out the window. As a juror, all I would need to see is the surveillance tape from Mrs. Petit's trip to the bank that morning. Looking at her and thinking of the girls she had at home, her fear for them and herself . . . I think I'd head the lynch mob.

I read "In Cold Blood" in high school. It told of events that happened before I was born, described in stylized fashion. It almost seemed like fiction. Unfortunately, devastation like that wasn't make believe then or now. Michele
Posted By Michele Jackson, Northridge, CA : 11:54 PM ET
This is a scary story, but whenever I hear of stories like this, I wonder if the world is getting worse, or if we are just more informed than ever. I grew up in Connecticut, and we rarely even locked our doors. As a kid in the summers, I would leave after I ate breakfast, come home for lunch, and leave again and be home by dinner.

There were no cell phones, and I knew that as long as I didn't cross any major roads or go more than half a mile away I was OK. But, even before this story, I would double and triple check the locks and my alarm, and I am paranoid if my children play unsupervised in the park that is in the lot right next to my house. I think there used to be crazy people a long time ago, but we are so informed now that we are paranoid to even let our kids out of our sight.

I feel sad for this family, but I hope we do not become so overprotective that we destroy our childhood for our children. Of course take the necessary precautions, know what your kids are doing, where they are going and who they are with. But crimes like this may be almost unpreventable unless the home owners have and are properly trained to use a gun. And gun laws in states like my original state of Connecticut are so backwards that a homeowner can't defend themself without being tried for manslaughter. I fear that with the news now society that we have, stories like this will always be commonplace.
Posted By Nestor, Austin, TX : 2:27 AM ET
I am having a problem with this story. I am wondering how is it the women were brutally murdered while the male received only a beating and was spared. Maybe it is my suspicious mind as the child of a former detective. I hope I am wrong but I am wary of the "GOOD DOCTOR."
Posted By Ann, Howell NJ : 10:04 AM ET
Hi Randi, I know what you mean when you say you can't sleep at night, especially after hearing this horrible story. I used to live in one of America's biggest cities. I moved to a small town because I got tired of looking over my shoulder. Even now, I still do this, and as I've learned over the years, even the small town I live in is not totally free of crime. I guess we take all the necessary precautions to protect ourselves, but the bigger question is, what drives people to commit these crimes? As a society, what can we do to prevent this from happening? Is it poverty, neglect they experienced in childhood, or abuse that cause them to commit crimes? Please don't get me wrong, there's no excuse for what they did. What they've done is unspeakable, but we should look at the bigger picture and get to the root of all this, and not just point the finger at the criminals. Thanks for listening.
Posted By Lilibeth, Edmonds, WA : 1:51 PM ET
It really is a scary world. I check my doors all of the time. I have a seventy pound dog, but I think that she would stand behind me and wag her tail if someone came in the house. What worries me the most is that I live in a safe community and my kids have no fear. My daughter and her friends are headed to Wriggly Field tonight and there have been two rapes in the area. She just rolls her eyes at me when I talk to her. At 5 feet and 105 lbs she is a huge target. We have to be alert and be prepared to protect ourselves. You never know when someone is going to snap. Thanks for bringing us this story.
Posted By Kathy Chicago,Il : 4:00 PM ET
Hey Randi,
This crime is so heinous it even rivals those Kansas family murders that were the subject of the book "In Cold Blood".
What's even worse is that the murderers will be watched over and fed well and of course have THEIR legal rights defended probably by some of the best lawyers there is. They will probably plead guilty by reason of insanity and end up in a mental institution for life. Whatever the verdict it's too good for them.
Posted By Bev Ontario Canada : 10:27 AM ET
This story brings tears to my eyes every time I think about it. The senselessness and irony of it is what lingers. It's ironic given that Dr. Petit spent his career doing good, and his family apparently did everything 'right'.
It reminds me of when a friend's former sorority sister went missing after moving to VT to escape NYC. They found her, but too late. Since then i've been aware that anything can happen anywhere. It's a shame that we can't feel safe just going for a run or a walk in the country.
I consider myself liberal, but I wonder if the entertainment industry hasn't desensitized us to these things. So many people were quoted as saying, 'it's just like an episode of CSI.' What is aired in prime time today would have been considered shocking for the violence and suggestion of violence a few years ago. Have some people lost the distinction between fiction and reality?
Posted By Anonymous : 9:59 PM ET
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