Television news broadcasters refer to it as the “gun culture,” but I prefer to call it the “2nd Amendment culture”-the right of people to defend themselves. But even if Doctor William Petit owned a firearm , it’s not certain that the Cheshire, Connecticut physician could have done anything to prevent the horrific brutal murders of his wife and two daughters. What may have helped the family survive was a combination of gun and a dog to sound the alert.
Dr. Petit is the only survivor of a home invasion assault in July of 2007. According to his testimony in the ongoing trial, Petit was asleep on the couch in his home’s sunroom when two intruders entered the house, assaulted, tortured, and murdered his wife, Jennifer Hawke-Petit and two girls, Michaela (age 11) and Hayley (age 17).
The Hartford Courant covered several aspects of the story. Reporter Alaine Griffin’s story, Cheshire Authorities Describe Grim Search For Bodies, details the horrific events leading up to the arrival of police after Jennifer Hawke-Petit withdrew $15,000 from her bank and tipped off bank employees that her family was being held hostage. It was the sort of nightmare that would have been unbearable in fiction, let alone real life.
A related Courant editorial, Testimony At Hayes Trial Raises A Lot Of ‘What Ifs’, second guesses the manner in which police responded to reports of the home invasion murders. Knowing the family’s fate, the timeline presented in the editorial is like the drip of water torture:
- The bank manager called police at 9:21 a.m. after Jennifer Hawke-Petit informed bank employees her family was being held hostage.
- Police units were alerted by dispatch and Captain Robert Vignola arrived 15 minutes later, after telling marked police units to hang back. Eight minutes after his arrival, Vignola ordered other police to set up a security perimeter around the house.
- The two accused murderers had set the house on fire and were fleeing when a police officer “came upon a severely beaten and bloodied Dr. William Petit Jr. in his neighbor’s driveway.”
- Petit told the cops that his family was still inside the burning house, where other police officers were unable to enter because of accelerated heat and flame.
The response of police and fire officials has inevitably become the subject of controversy in the state. Because the accused were on parole, some anti-crime activists in the state have tried to enact legislation to plug the holes, proposing severe separate penalties for home invasion. Countering the public mood, perhaps, was the May 2009 Connecticut House of Representative vote to abolish the state’s death penalty. The governor vetoed the bill.
Additional criticism stems from the five minute delay before the dispatcher sent police to the home regarding an “incident.” It is perhaps justifiable to criticize the speed of a response, but less reasoned criticism stems from Captain Vignola’s order to set up a security perimeter before approaching the house. The problem with this type of criticism is that it’s short-sighted. There’s nothing in a cop’s job description which requires the officer to charge through a hail of bullets to investigate an “incident.” That fact is, you never know, until after the fact.
Some have proposed that, during the approximate half hour before police arrived and captured parolees Joshua Komisarjevsky and Steven Hayes, Petit’s family was being murdered and a better police response could have prevented the murders.
While there have already been at least two books on the subject, the precise timeline remains a question only the perpetrators could answer. Police blocked and apprehended the fleeing criminals in a chaotic series of events at some risk to themselves. Captain Vignola says he would have been “the first one through the door” if he knew what was happening when he arrived.
The defense attorney Thomas J Ulmann pounced on Captain Vignola’s testimony regarding the police response. What sort of defense this is defies reckoning and is, perhaps, a mere transparent attempt to put the focus on police behavior rather than on his client’s.
The only person to survive the attack, Dr. William Petit., Jr, managed to escape the basement prison where he’d been tied. Dr. Petit hopped up the basement steps, and crawled bleeding across the yard to his neighbor’s driveway for help. During his testimony, Petit said he heard several “thumps” while he was tied up in the basement. He also heard his wife telling the intruders she’d have to get dressed and “get her purse and checkbook.” (Video of Jennifer’s appearance at the bank is posted on the Courant site) Even more chilling was Petit’s testimony that one of the men shouted aloud at some point: “Don’t worry, it’ll all be all over in a couple of minutes.”
There is an often repeated trope in the 2nd Amendment culture and which says, in effect, that, “in an emergency, police will arrive in minutes even though you have only seconds.” Another “saying” is that “police will arrive in time to file (crime) reports.”
While gun ownership may not have saved the Petit family, it’s comforting to envision another scenario. The family terrier, with its keen hearing, begins yapping long and loud enough to wake Dr. Petit or another adult trained firearms handler in the family. Before the home invaders are within ten yards of the home, one of the Petits has called 9-11 while another stands watching and waiting in the ready position. Who could argue that the possibility of a different outcome would not be better than the one endured?