On July 23rd, 2007, news of an unspeakable tragedy spread across the town of Cheshire, Connecticut. Three innocent people were left dead, and another severely injured, in the wake of a brutal home invasion. It all began with a trip to the grocery store, a greed for money, and a sick sexual desire.
The evening before, on a quiet Sunday, 48-year-old Jennifer Hawke-Petit and her 11-year-old daughter, Michaela, took a trip to their local Stop & Shop. Michaela was going to make her family dinner, and the two needed to pick up some ingredients for the occasion. They couldn't have known that they would catch the eye of Joshua Komisarjevsky. He had a fascination with the Petit's money, and, as prosecutors would later argue, a dark interest in young Michaela. So he followed the two of them home.
For the horrors that were to follow, Joshua wasn't working alone. He brought an accomplice, Steven Hayes (who, though presenting as a man at the time, has since come out as a transgender woman, and will be referred to as such in this article), in on the plan. Based on a text message exchange between the two—"I'm chomping at the bit to get started."—the duo seemed excited by the prospect of their illicit activities. According to a confession that would later come from Hayes, she claimed that the pair's original intention was only to rob the Petit home. But things clearly spiraled out of control before the ordeal was through.
Komisarjevsky and Hayes planned to invade the Petit home in the middle of the night to score some cash. They'd allegedly agreed to tie the family up but leave them otherwise unharmed. But upon their arrival at the property in the early morning hours of July 23rd, they found Dr. William Petit asleep on the sun room couch and a baseball bat by the basement stairs. Komisarjevsky wielded the bat and proceeded to strike Dr. Petit four to five times. From there, Komisarjevsky and Hayes bound the doctor with rope and plastic zip ties around his wrists and ankles.
Jennifer, Michaela, and the other Petit daughter, 17-year-old Hayley, were apprehended in their respective rooms. Their wrists and ankles were secured to bedposts, while pillowcases were slipped over their heads. After an initial search for cash, Komisarjevsky and Hayes moved Dr. Petit to bind him to a support pole. A second phase of ransacking was frustrating for the criminals until they found a check register with $40,000.
Adding kidnapping to their growing list of offenses, Hayes took Jennifer and brought her to the bank. She demanded the mother withdraw $15,000 under threat of further harm coming to her family. Once the money was obtained, Hayes returned to the Petit home with Jennifer. Shortly after, Hayes raped and strangled Jennifer to death. However, some investigators argue that Hayes may have engaged in necrophilia here, as the order of these atrocities has not been confirmed.
Meanwhile, Komisarjevsky was engaging in his own despicable spree. He raped young Michaela, turning her last moments into a time of complete horror. Horrors which he documented on his cellphone.
Afterward, Hayes and Komisarjevsky doused Jennifer's body and the still-living girls in gasoline—a ploy to destroy any evidence they may have left behind. The house was set ablaze, and the unfortunate Petit daughters died of smoke inhalation. Dr. Petit was able to escape out of a hatchway in the cellar.
The criminals fled the burning home in the Petit's stolen car. After a bank teller, Mary Lyons, noticed the worrying situation with Jennifer, she had alerted the police to the situation, causing cruisers to be stationed down the street from the Petit home. In their getaway, Hayes and Komisarjevsky crashed into the police cruisers, leading to their arrests.
The home invasion from hell lasted seven hours. Komisarjevsky and Hayes had both been on parole at the time of these murders for previous burglaries. Due to the timeline of when Hayes purchased the gasoline, many believe the murder of the Petit family to have been pre-meditated. The lack of surveillance on the two parolees and the posting of the police so close to the home as it was set ablaze has led many to cast doubts upon the handling of the atrocities by the police.
Once in custody, Hayes and Komisarjevsky were quick to point fingers at each other as the driving force behind this despicable set of crimes. Komisarjevsky would later blame Dr. Petit for the death of his family, calling him a "coward" who could have saved them if he really wanted to.
In 2010, Hayes was convicted of the murders and sentenced to death. Komisarjevsky was also convicted in 2011 and sentenced to death the following year. However, despite protests from the sole survivor of this massacre, these criminals never saw execution. In 2015, Connecticut abolished the death penalty, and Hayes and Komisarjevsky's sentences were commuted to life imprisonment.
Justice was served, even if it wasn't to the full extent that those hurt by these severe losses might have liked. And while nothing can bring back the lives of Dr. Petit's family, their cherished memories live on. Jennifer was a nurse and co-director of the health center at a private boarding school. Hayley participated in varsity cross country, basketball, and crew and had just graduated as a high honor roll student, all while actively fundraising for multiple sclerosis research. Michaela had plans to take over Hayley's fundraising after her sister left for college, and she loved cooking for her family.