On July 23, 2007, the Petit family's idyllic life in Cheshire, Connecticut, ended when two convicted criminals, Steven Hayes and Joshua Komisarjevsky, broke into the house. The men intended to rob the upscale home of the respected doctor, William Petit Jr.; his wife, Jennifer Hawke-Petit, a former nurse who had recently been diagnosed with multiple sclerosis; and their two daughters, Hayley, 17, and Michaela, 11. However, the burglary quickly transformed into a terrifying home invasion that included multiple acts of assault and ended with arson.
After law enforcement captured the perpetrators, many people in the wealthy town were left asking how such a brutal crime could have occurred in their quiet community, as well as what, if anything, could have been done to prevent one woman and two girls from losing their lives. The Cheshire Murders, as the crime came to be called, is an example of a home burglary that spun out of control.
The Two Girls Died Of Smoke Inhalation
Before Hayes set the house on fire, Komisarjevsky shut the doors to Michaela and Hayley's bedrooms, leaving the two girls tied to their beds with pillowcases on their heads. Prior to the fire, Komisarjevsky reportedly said to his accomplice: "You can't seriously be contemplating burning these two girls alive."
After the fire started, the two men fled the house. Hayley managed to escape from her room, but the heavy smoke overtook her. Later, emergency responders found Hayley's body at the top of the stairs and Michaela's still bound to her bed. A medical examiner later determined both girls had died of smoke inhalation.
William Petit Jr. Was The Only Survivor
Shortly after the perpetrators set the house on fire and fled the scene, Petit, who had been tied up in the basement, managed to free himself from his restraints and escape from the burning home. Petit ran to a neighbor's house - with his ankles still bound together - to get help for himself and his family, not realizing his wife had already passed.
When the neighbor discovered Petit at his door around 10 AM, he didn't recognize the doctor because he'd been beaten so severely. The men alerted the nearby police officers, but first responders were unable to save the lives of Hayley and Michaela, making Petit the only survivor of the home invasion.
Police Were Just Outside The House While The Perpetrators Were Inside
After Petit managed to escape his burning home, he tried to get help for his wife and two daughters, unaware that the police had already been notified of an incident at his home approximately one hour earlier. When Hayes forced Hawke-Petit to withdraw $15,000 from the bank, Hawke-Petit told one of the tellers about the hostage situation and how her children were tied up at her house. A bank employee called 911 to inform the authorities.
Shortly after the call was made, officers were dispatched to the Petit home, but they were instructed by their superiors not to enter the house. Reportedly, Hawke-Petit was under suspicion of being complicit in the cash withdrawal because of her calm demeanor at the bank. The officers were also told not to attempt to speak with Hayes when he arrived back at the house, nor were they allowed to try to contact someone inside the residence via phone.
Instead, law enforcement officials were directed to set up a perimeter and monitor the situation, leaving officers just outside the home while the assaults occurred.
Hayes and Komisarjevsky Met While Staying At A Halfway House
After the home invasion turned arson, Komisarjevsky and Hayes hopped into the Petit family's SUV and tried to leave the scene. However, the pair only managed to drive one block before they crashed the vehicle. Law enforcement quickly apprehended them.
Investigators soon discovered both men had extensive criminal histories, and they'd actually met one another the previous year while they were both living at a halfway house in Hartford, CT. Shortly after meeting, Hayes and Komisarjevsky decided to become partners in crime, committing burglaries together in order to steal cash and credit cards from wealthy families.