Dr. William Petit, the sole survivor of the deadly home invasion that claimed the lives of his wife and two daughters, said today that he did not end his own life because he didn't want to risk not being reunited with them in heaven.
"I thought of the afterlife and if I was going to meet up with my family," said Petit in his first interview since his family's killer, Steven Hayes, was sentenced to death last month. "I thought that [if I kiilled myself], maybe I would never meet up with them again, and I wasn't willing to take that chance."
Petit, speaking to Oprah Winfrey in his parent's Connecticut home where he has lived since his own was burned in the 2007 assault on his family, said that his relationship with God is at a "stand off" since his family was killed.
"I believe in God, but I was pretty angry with him for a long time," said Petit. "I've talked to a lot of smart people who have told me it's OK to be angry with God. God can take it."
Petit's wife, Jennifer Hawke-Petit, and the couple's two daughters, 17-year-old Hayley and 11-year-old Michaela, were all killed during a July 2007 home invasion carried out by Hayes and his alleged accomplice, Joshua Komisarjevsky.
Hayes is awaiting execution on Connecticut's death row and Komisarjevsky's trial is expected to begin in February.
Hayes was convicted of raping and strangling Hawke-Petit and Komisarjevsky is charged with sexually assaulting Michaela. Both Michaela and Hayley died after they were tied to their beds, doused with gasoline and the house was set on fire.
Petit says closure will never be possible and he doesn't consider forgiveness an option either.
"I don't think you can forgive ultimate evil," he said. "You can forgive someone who stole your car. You can forgive someone who slaps you in the face. You can forgive someone who insulted you. You can forgive someone who caused an accident. I think forgiving the essence of evil is not appropriate."
Dr. Petit Spends Much of His Time Locked in His Room
Describing a life without his family, Petit told Winfrey that he spends many days locked in his room, unable to face to the world. He suffers from post traumatic stress disorder and has frequent flashbacks to the day his family was attacked.
Petit himself suffered severe injuries, having been beaten in the head by a bat and tied up in the family's garage.
"I went to sleep one night in a nice home with a loving family and basically awoke in an emergency room, naked on a gurney with no family, no home," said Petit. "Everything was just gone."
Asked what it's like to live with the constant reminder that his family is gone, Petit said the daytime hours are easier and that falling asleep is still hard.
"There are intrusive thoughts banging into your brain, replaying over and over and over again in your mind," said Petit.
Petit said he has considered the "what ifs" hundreds of times.
"What if someone had slid the latch over on the basement door, what if I had been able to get free earlier?" said Petit. "Magical thinking, to make it all better."
Petit attended every day of Hayes' trial, leaving only during the medical examiner's testimony detailing the physical harm done to the three women, saying it was "too hard to hear." Admitting that he cried a lot during the court proceedings, Petit said that he showed up every day because he is the "only face left" in the family.
"I had almost no feeling at all. I think I had marginalized [Hayes]," Petit said of sitting day after day in the same room as his family's killer. "I hated what he did, hated what he stood for, hated the life that he lived."
"It was like death by a thousand paper cuts," said Petit. "You sit there and they talk about the alleged victims and I always think I'll drive you to the cemetery and show you the alleged victims... You want to jump up and say they have names. They were people. Their names are Jennifer, Michaela and Hayley."
Dr. William Petit Speaks About His Family's Gruesome Murders
Barely able to remember when his father told him his wife and daughters had not survived the attack, Petit said he does remember throwing up again and again and sobbing.
"He said, 'They're all gone,' but you just deny it," said Petit. "Your brain doesn't want to believe it, so you push it out."
It's been nearly four years since the Petit house has been decorated for Christmas, and Petit said he doesn't know if he'll ever celebrate the holiday again. Since the home invasion, Petit said he has remained alone in a room, unable to "deal with the holidays."
Petit has stopped practicing medicine since the murders because he says it is "too hard to focus for sustained periods," which wouldn't be "fair to the patients."
"[Jennifer] would probably want me to go back to medicine," he said. "Hayley and Michaela would just want me to be happy."
Asked by Winfrey if he's thought about starting a new family one day, Petit said he's considered it.
"I've imagined it," he said. "On good days yes, on bad days no."
As for whether he'll ever feel happiness again, Petit said he's "not convinced," though a lot of people tell him "it will happen."
His hardest moments are when everyday activities remind him of his family, said Petit.
"Being in a park and seeing a father and a daughter shooting hoops, being on a bike path and seeing a family riding, just day to day things that people do makes you think about the last time you did them," he said.
"Something I thought about a lot during my grieving is that if you lost your parents you were called an orphan, and if you lost your wife you're a widow. But if you lost your children, what's the word for that?" he said. "I don't think there is a word and it just struck me that maybe it's such a terrible thing, that your children aren't supposed to die, that there wasn't a real world for it."
Since the murders, Petit has dedicated his life to the Petit Family Foundation and charities in both his daughter's names, contribution to which support scholarships for young women and research for Multiple Sclerosis. Hawke-Petit had battled MS prior to her death.
Petit's Sister Recalls Having to Identify Her Neices' Bodies
Petit's sister, Hannah Petit-Chapman, was called by investigators to identify Hayley and Michaela following their murders. Hawke-Petit was burned so badly that she was only able to be identified through her dental records.
"I don't regret having done it. I regret having to do it," said Petit-Chapman. "I regret the fact that this evil came into their home."
"I have the horrid images of the torture they suffered for seven hours in that house," she said. "In that sanctuary in the middle of the night, iin the dark. I can't help but think about what they were thinking and saying and what they were praying for."
Petit-Chapman says she believes the girls were thinking positively until the very end.
"I think they were probably thinking it was going to be OK, because I can't imagine, even as bad as it was, I can't imagine they would have imagined something so horrible in their lives," she said. "And at the end of it I throw it out the window because I think when there is gasoline being spread around your bed and over your body, you cannot be thinking very positive thoughts any longer."
She still worries about her brother and says that right after the murders she wondering what would come of him.
"This is not my brother Billy," said Petit-Chapman, gripping Dr. Petit's hand. "One of the first days we ever visited the cemetery together were walking away together and he said, 'Who am I? I don't know who I am.'"
"And frankly, I did not have an answer."