A chilling examination of the 2007 slaughter of a Connecticut family and how the sole survivor carried on.
In a book expanded from a series of riveting Esquire feature articles, Popular Mechanics editor-in-chief D’Agostino narrates the story of Dr. William Petit, a prominent New England endocrinologist, and his close-knit household, which was shattered by a 2007 home invasion. In gripping, dramatic prose, the author intricately describes how two armed men stormed the Petit home, beat William, and tied him to a pole in the basement. The men robbed and then strangled his wife, assaulted both daughters, and set the house ablaze. Though wholly devastated, Petit remained a silent and bravely stoic presence throughout the ordeal’s aftermath, including the ensuing bereavement services where he urged all in attendance to “go forward with the inclination to live with a faith that embodies action—help a neighbor, fight for a cause, love your family.” D’Agostino effectively develops a portrait of Petit’s perseverant, “quiet leader” characteristics through chapters on his early life as the community-minded son of a Depression-era grocery store proprietor. His modesty and hardworking ethic proved a winning combination while attending Dartmouth College and medical school and during his marriage to wife Jennifer, with whom he raised daughters Hayley and Michaela. As a pillar of his bedroom community, Petit’s tremendous grief was buffered by friends’ financial and emotional support, the healing comfort of routine, and the creation of a charitable family foundation. Old wounds reopened, however, when the killers were brought to justice in a highly publicized court case. D’Agostino’s impressive narrative dexterity evokes horror for the crime’s re-enactment yet also admiration for Petit’s ability to later sustain a new relationship and embody the possibility of surviving “the very worst of what’s possible on earth, and to go on living.”
True crime and human perseverance merge in this engrossing chronicle of a small-town atrocity.