Woog's World: Westport isn't immune from tragedy

You don’t want to know. You can’t assume. But when the news comes through — “untimely deaths” of a woman and her daughter, in a Westport home — your mind races.

Word of last week’s tragedy spread through town at the same time many residents were celebrating. Under a cloudless sky, buffeted by a gentle breeze, Staples High School held its first outdoor graduation in 27 years. Hope filled the air.

After 15 months of lockdowns, quarantines, masks and missed opportunities, the Class of 2021 finally had a chance to do something normal. This commencement marked a milestone, not just for the graduates but for all of Westport.

Yet around the corner — a couple of miles away, at a house off Weston Road known to so many for its bright Christmas decorations, and scary Halloween ghosts and goblins — a ghoulish scene was unfolding. Police raced to the scene of what was soon determined to be a homicide, and a suicide.

It’s hard to imagine anything more horrible than that. Two lives lost. A family shattered. Classmates, friends, neighbors — all are collateral damage.

Some Westporters speculated on the motive. Rumors raced around town, fed and amplified on social media. It’s human nature to want to know what happened to others, to learn details of even the most awful crime. Perhaps it’s a way to make sense of the senseless, or to rationalize that whatever went on is so aberrant that it could never happen to you.

But it did happen here. Parents had to explain to their Coleytown Elementary School youngsters why they would not be going back for the final two days of school. Neighbors had to tell their children about the police tape on the house that always looked so happy. Everyone had to think about the lives all of us lead behind closed doors.

Fortunately, Westport is seldom touched by violence. Murder is rare; a murder and suicide at the same time almost non-existent. But as comfortable and safe as we are in our bubble, we are not immune. Wealth and well-decorated homes cannot shield us from the realities of life and death.

Before this tragedy, the last murder in Westport occurred nearly 10 years ago. A jeweler was shot and killed in his business. The suspect fled with $300,000 in stolen diamonds. An international manhunt found him in Spain. A day after his arrest, he died by suicide.

In 1996, a secretary was killed at her religious school by her estranged husband. He then shot himself.

An unsolved case from a few years earlier involved a woman whose burning body was discovered behind the Coffee An’ shopping center.

There were six murders in the mid- to late-1980s. Several resulted from fights.

Murders in Westport are so rare that longtime residents remember them with clarity.

A handyman killed a woman in the Old Hill section in the 1960s, and abducted her daughter. Around that time too, early on the morning of July 4, a young man shot his father in the Victorian house on Gorham Island; he then headed to the police station, and opened fire there.

What causes someone to do such things? What goes through the mind of a person who takes the life of another human being? Do they see only darkness, and no light? Do they think about what they’re doing, as they commit unthinkable acts?

But murder in Westport really is not unthinkable. It happens — infrequently, thankfully, but often enough that we know it is not impossible. We call last week’s tragedy on Lyndale Park “unfathomable,” but we must fathom it. It happened, and it happened here. In our community, to our neighbors.

A newspaper columnist is supposed to look at events, provide context, offer insights. Often, at the end, a columnist can provide closure — a final thought, pithy saying or wrap-up-with-a-bow conclusion that sends the reader off with certainty.

There’s none of that here.

I am as horrified, saddened and perplexed as every other Westporter. There are no words to describe what happened, and I’d be lying if I said I had them. There is only sorrow, grief, and the reminder that, as rare as this sort of thing in town is, it has happened before.

Now we must try even harder to make sure, somehow, it does not happen again.

Dan Woog is a Westport writer, and his “Woog's World” appears each Friday. He can be reached at dwoog@optonline.net. His personal blog is danwoog06880.com.