A police officer who was near a Connecticut house where a woman and her two daughters were killed during a home invasion was apparently ordered not to approach the house for nearly 30 minutes while police set up a perimeter and called in a special response team, according to transcripts and a time log of police communication.
It appears that more than 25 minutes elapsed from the time officers were told not to make contact with the home of William Petit and Jennifer Hawke-Petit, and the time that the two suspects fled the house, according to the heavily redacted transcripts, which were obtained by ABC News.
But by then, Jennifer Hawke-Petit lay dead inside the house, apparently strangled. Her two daughters, Haley and Michaela, were tied to a bed and apparently died in a fire set by the suspects, according to police. Her husband, William Petit, who had been beaten and left for dead, escaped.
The first officer on the scene was nearby the Petits' home by about 9:28 a.m. July 23, 2007, but police were told not to approach the house, according to the call log. Over the next 25 minutes or so, police blocked off the street, set up a perimeter and a command center, and called in a special response team and equipment, according to the call log.
At about 9:54 a.m., in quick succession, police saw someone -- apparently William Petit -- leaving the house, reported that the suspects were in the driveway and attempting to flee and that the house was on fire. Police took two suspects into custody at 9:58 a.m. when they used the Petits' SUV to try to drive through a police roadblock down the street.
Steven Hayes and Joshua Komisarjevsky are accused of taking the family hostage, strangling Jennifer Hawke-Petit, tying her two daughters to their beds and setting the house ablaze. They were both charged with crimes, including murder, kidnapping and arson. They have pleaded not guilty and face the death penalty if convicted.
Lt. Jay Markella of the Cheshire, Conn., Police Department declined to comment on the chain of events that appear to be outlined in the transcript and call log, citing a gag order in the case. Citing an unidentified law enforcement source, The Associated Press reported last year that police did not immediately enter the home because they were assured by a 911 caller that no one would be hurt if police were not involved.
Because they are heavily redacted, it is not clear from the transcripts what information was communicated to police in the initial 911 call. The timeline of events is based on a call log and notes prepared by police and released this week.
"The Cheshire Police Department's officers acted properly and according to their training," Markella said in an earlier interview with the Hartford Courant, which first reported on the transcripts. "Based on the information that was received, the officers followed procedure and protocol."
A close friend of William Petit, Rick Healey, said the Petit family had no comment.
"The family is devastated over their loss," he said.
The horrific case has prompted calls for reforms to Connecticut's criminal laws. On Wednesday, six months to the day after the home invasion, the state general assembly passed a bill that would make home invasion a separate crime that carries a minimum of ten years in prison.
The initial 911 call came in at 9:21 a.m. from a local Bank of America branch. The call from the bank reportedly came after Hawke-Petit entered the branch and withdrew $15,000 from her family's account.
It appears from the transcripts and call log that the incident was first broadcast to police around 9:26 a.m., about two minutes after the initial 911 call ended, and a police offier noted that he was in the area a few seconds after that.
The former head hostage negotiator for the Toronto Police SWAT team, Barnie McNeilly, said that after a perimeter is set up, police negotiators typically try to make contact to confirm what is taking place.
"In most occasions, if we receive a 911 call about a home invasion or hostage situation, the No. 1 thing we have to do is confirm it," he said.
He said the appropriate response would depend on the exact information the Cheshire police had at the time, which was not immediately clear.