BRISTOL - After the Cheshire home invasion that took the lives of his wife, Jennifer Hawke-Petit, and daughters Hayley and Michaela, Dr. William Petit Jr. got help from friends and family who encouraged him, despite his reluctance at times, to continue on.
Thanks to that support, the Petit Family Foundation arose from the tragedy to aid fellow victims of violence.
Today marks the 10-year anniversary of the home invasion. Afterward, Petit said, he received donations from people “all over the world” trying to help him.
His golfing buddies,Mike Ziebka, Joe Meaney and brothers Ron and Rick Bucci, helped Petit establish a fund to put that money toward causes he cared about.
The Petit Family Foundation was established to support the education of young people, women in the sciences, people with chronic illnesses and victims of violence.
“In 2008, we gave out $8,000 in grants,” said Petit. “Last year and this year, thanks to golf tournament and road race fundraisers, we gave out close to a half-million in grants and sponsorships and awards. I’m very proud. We have a great board of directors that includes almost all of the original members who joined in December 2007. We have also since added three or four more new people. ”
Petit said he was fortunate to have had a large group of family and friends to support him.
He noted that a former school superintendent in Plainville, Mark Thompson of Quinnipiac University, members of his church in Cheshire and the academic adviser of his late daughter, Hayley, were all a big help.
“At first, it was tough to even attend board meetings,” he said. “My sister prepared dinner for us, and we would eat for a half-hour before our meetings and just talk.”
Petit has since met with many other victims of violence over the years and spoken to them over the phone.
“I tell people that it is important to avail themselves of help,” he said. “It is also critical to get professional help from a therapist. You don’t want to put your friends and family in the position of being your therapist. That makes things difficult for everyone. In the beginning, I was pretty unhappy with people who told me to keep moving on and doing things, but the bottom line is that doing things was very helpful to me. Doing things to help people via the foundation was therapeutic and took my mind off of the losses. It gave me a reason to go forward.”
“Some people like to think that you can just wrap up those feelings and that they eventually go away - but they never go away,” Petit continued. “They will be with you every day for the rest of your life. You will think about it every day. The key is being able to control your reaction to it.
“Survivors of Homicide in Connecticut are a great support group. They were with me while I was caught up in the trials. It was hard to convince myself to get up, drive to Hartford, fill out paperwork and meet with people I had never met about what had happened. I didn’t do it right away - it might have been a year and a half later - but it is important to seek out these resources.”
The killers, Joshua Komisarjevsky and Steven Hayes, are serving life in prison. They originally were sentenced to death, but Connecticut abolished capital punishment in 2012.
Brian M. Johnson can be reached at 860-973-1806 or firstname.lastname@example.org.