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Methodists offer prayers in slaying of family

Mourners post condolences just after a prayer wall is erected in the United Methodist Western Pennsylvania Conference in the wake of a family killing in Cheshire, Conn. Within days, the prayer wall was covered with postings.
A UMNS photo by Jackie Campbell.

By Jackie Campbell*
July 27, 2007 | GROVE CITY, Pa. (UMNS)

Mourners offered prayers and posted messages of condolence for the Rev. Richard and Marybelle Hawke at a prayer wall set up at the United Methodist Western Pennsylvania Conference’s Cooperative School of Christian Mission.

The couple’s daughter, Jennifer Hawke-Petit, 48, and two granddaughters, Hayley, 17, and Michaela, 11, were murdered June 23 in a home invasion in Cheshire, Conn. Her husband, William Petit, an endocrinologist, was beaten and hospitalized.

Hawke served as the first male clergy dean of the conference’s school of mission and as a district superintendent in Pittsburgh.

Private funeral services were scheduled for July 27 at Cheshire United Methodist Church, where the Petits were active members. A community memorial service was scheduled for July 28 at Welte Auditorium on the campus of Central Connecticut State University in New Britain.

"God is crying with us."
-The Rev. Richard Hawke

The Cheshire church welcomed the community for prayer and fellowship in the days following the high-profile tragedy. A grief counselor was available.

"We all need to understand the only way that we are going to even begin to cope is by our faith and our reliance upon God and one another," the Rev. Stephen Volpe told news reporters. "That's exactly what the entire Petit family exampled, modeled and witnessed to."

Hawke said he believes "God is crying with us."

In the Western Pennsylvania Conference, prayer and memorial services were scheduled for July 27 at Stone United Methodist Church in Meadville, where Hawke served 10 years before retiring, and for July 29 at First United Methodist Church in Greenville, where Jennifer grew up and attended high school.

Two parolees — one the son of a prominent Connecticut family — are being held on bond of $15 million each in the deaths. The men were charged July 26 with six counts of capital felony murder, and prosecutors say they will seek the death penalty.

Police say two men entered the Cheshire home about 3 a.m. and held the family hostage about six hours. The intruders took Jennifer to a bank, where she withdrew money from the family's account and passed a note to the teller that she was being held hostage. Bank officials alerted police.

When authorities arrived, the house was on fire. Inside they found, Jennifer, Hayley and Michaela. Jennifer had been strangled and the girls died from smoke inhalation. Police apprehended the two suspects in a vehicle as they were fleeing the neighborhood.

The Hawkes are retired and spend summers in the Slippery Rock, Pa., area, where they attend Slippery Rock United Methodist Church. The church’s pastor, the Rev. Pam Gardner, served as clergy dean of the school of mission where the prayer wall was set up.

Gardner went to the Hawke home after learning of the tragedy. Speaking during a special time of prayer and lament at the mission school, she said that while the Hawkes are devastated, their faith remains strong and they bear no malice toward the men who committed the crimes.

*Campbell is communications staff writer for the Western Pa. Conference.

News media contact: Linda Bloom, New York, (646) 369-3759 or newsdesk@umcom.org.

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Cheshire United Methodist Church

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