Crime Scenes: Razing the Memories

One year ago today, Dr. William Petit became the sole survivor of a horrific home invasion that took his wife of 22 years, the couple's two daughters, and left their upscale Connecticut neighborhood reeling in shock.

While Petit can't erase the memories from the day that changed his life forever, he did do something that many other victims of tragedy do to cope with loss: He demolished the site where the killings occurred.

Last month, Petit razed the home in which his wife, Jennifer Hawke-Petit, and daughters Hayley, 17, and Michaela, 11, had lived. The three were senselessly murdered when two perpetrators allegedly doused their bodies in gasoline and lit the house on fire after robbing them.

"[Petit] didn't want to continue to have the house as a reminder of what had happened," Richard Hawke, Petit's father-in-law, told "It was torn down a month ago – leveled off and now it's just a mound."

"There's grass growing," added Hawke of the once happy family's home. "There are no plans to rebuild."

Petit, who managed to escape after being brutally beaten by the perpetrators, now lives with his parents in a nearby Connecticut town.

While he chose to demolish his family's home, Petit kept the landscaping that had surrounded his home and transported several trees and bushes to his parents' home in part to memorialize his family.

"[Petit's daughters] were probably pretty little when they were planted," said Hawke. "Petit was going to re-plant them [at his parent's] in a way that would represent a memorial for the girls."

The site of tragedy is often too hard for survivors and community members to bear, as was the case in the Columbine High School shooting in 1999, the Amish School shooting in 2006, and the massacre at Virginia Tech University in April 2007 – all of which were either demolished or drastically altered after the killings occurred.

And at Northern Illinois University, administrators are still struggling to renovate Cole Hall, the lecture hall where five students died and 18 were injured when a shooter opened fire last February.

Changing Appearances While Preserving Memories

After Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold opened fire at Columbine High School in Columbine, Colo., killing 12 students and one teacher and wounding another 23 people, school officials and community members initially petitioned to have the entire building torn down.

But Karen Jones, a school secretary whose two children were there the day of the shooting, told that the community eventually decided against demolition, an idea she referred to as a "knee-jerk reaction."

Instead, the community agreed to give Columbine's interior an extensive facelift.

"They made a lot of changes – tiles replaced the carpet and there are new light fixtures," said Jones.

The school library was eventually turned into an atrium and a new library was built elsewhere, said Jones, who told that nobody wanted to "re-enter that place."

"The reconstruction helps with closure and the horror," said Jones. "It was good to have as few reminders as possible."

Jones added that even the most minute details made a difference to those who had to return to the school after the shootings.

Her own children noticed the new light fixtures, said Jones, who said her sons had stared up at the lights while they ducked underneath tables to hide from killers Harris and Klebold.

  • 1
  • |
  • 2
  • |
  • 3
Join the Discussion
blog comments powered by Disqus
You Might Also Like...