"This is everyone's worst nightmare," Lt. Jay Markella, Cheshire police spokesman, told the Waterbury newspaper. "It's by far the worst thing any of us have ever seen."
Joshua Komisarjevsky, 26, of Cheshire, and Steven Hayes, 44, of Winsted, were arraigned Tuesday on charges of assault, sexual assault, kidnapping, burglary, robbery, arson, larceny and risk of injury to children. More charges are pending, state police said Tuesday night. The two men could face the death penalty.
Prosecutor Michael Dearington said he had not yet decided whether to pursue the death penalty.
"I know the public consensus is they should be fried tomorrow," he said.
The state medical examiner confirmed that Jennifer Hawke-Petit, 48, was strangled and that her daughters, 17-year-old Hayley and 11-year-old Michaela, died of smoke inhalation. The deaths were ruled homicides.
The girls' father, Dr. William Petit Jr., a prominent endocrinologist, remained hospitalized with head injuries.
All three women were raped, sources familiar with the investigation told both the Waterbury Republican-American and Hartford Courant. Petit was beaten with a baseball bat, thrown down the basement stairs, and then tied up in the cellar.
The girls, sources told the Courant, were tied to their beds and raped repeatedly, then left to burn after gasoline was poured around their beds and ignited.
The suspects entered the Petits' Cheshire home at about 3 a.m. Monday, planning to burglarize it, state police said.
Sources familiar with the investigation tell the Republican-American that Hawke-Petit and Michaela were followed home from a supermarket Sunday by the suspects. The men then went to a Wal-Mart to buy an air rifle and a rope, and then waited about a mile-and-a-half away
State officials are re-examining their parole policies, but Robert Farr, chairman of the Connecticut Board of Pardons and Parole, said the task would be difficult because neither suspect had a history of violent crimes.
"That's why this is sort of shocking — because it doesn't fit a normal mode," Farr said.
Petit remained hospitalized Wednesday.
"He's doing OK physically. Emotionally he is devastated and still worried about others," said Petit's pastor, the Rev. Stephen Volpe.
He told CBS affiliate WFSB-TV the Pettits were a strong and giving family.
"I'm thinking of the father. I can't imagine what he has to come back to," neighbor Linda Layman told CBS News. "Nobody should have to go through that. It's very devastating. It's just horrible."