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Thousands Mourn Deadly Home Invasion Victims in Connecticut

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Hayley and Jennifer Hawke-Petit (AP)

Dr. William Petit Jr. still bore bruises and gashes as he urged hundreds of mourners Saturday to "spread the work" of his wife and two young daughters, who were slain after burglars surprised them in their home.

Petit, the lone survivor of the violent attack, told more than 2,000 friends and strangers who crowded the memorial service about his wife of 22 years, who was a nurse; his college-bound daughter; and his youngest, who was just 11.

"I guess if there's anything to be gained from the senseless deaths of my beautiful family, it's for us all to go forward with the inclination to live with a faith that embodies action. Help a neighbor, fight for a cause, love your family," Petit said.

"I'm really expecting all of you to go out and do some of these things with your family, in your own little way, to spread the work of these three wonderful women. Thank you," he told the crowd.

Authorities say two men with long criminal histories broke into Petit's Cheshire home early Monday and held the family hostage for several hours. One forced Jennifer Hawke-Petit, 48, to make a withdrawal at a bank later that morning, triggering suspicion among bank employees, police said. Police rushed to the house, found it on fire and encountered the suspects fleeing. The two were arrested after crashing the Petits' car into police cruisers.

Petit was severely beaten and bound in the basement but managed to escape the fire. The bodies of his relatives were found in the smoldering home. Hawke-Petit was strangled, while Hayley, 17, and Michaela, 11, died of smoke inhalation.

Those who filledCentral Connecticut State University's 1,800-seat Welte Hall and still more at a side location on Saturday heard stories about their vibrant spirits and their love for each other, their community and their strong faith.

"As much as we weep, as much as we mourn their loss, as much as we miss them, God weeps with us," said Stephen Volpe, their pastor at Cheshire United Methodist Church.

The family is well-known in the state. Petit, 50, is the medical director of the Joslin Diabetes Center Affiliate at The Hospital of Central Connecticut in New Britain and president of the Hartford County Medical Association.

His wife was a director of the health center at the Cheshire Academy, and daughter Michaela attended Chase Collegiate School in Waterbury. Hayley, who recently graduated from Miss Porter's School in Farmington, had won early acceptance to Dartmouth, her father's alma mater.

Megan Alexander, 17, said Hawke-Petit was a second mother to many of the students at Cheshire Academy, many of whom are boarders and come from other countries. "She was always there for you," Alexander said.

Johanna Chapman, Dr. Petit's sister, said Hayley was inquisitive as a toddler, asking about the universe's formation. She was the cousin all of the younger cousins looked up to.

"The short time Hayley was here, she made an amazing difference," said Chapman, choking back tears. "Can you imagine what she could have done?"

Michaela, Chapman said, loved to cook and had prepared the family's dinner on Sunday — a salad with homemade balsamic vinaigrette, pasta and sauce made from fresh local tomatoes, basil and garlic.

"Losing her at age 11 is possibly the greatest loss of all, because she never got the chance to show us how great she could have been," Chapman said.

The suspects, 26-year-old Joshua Komisarjevsky of Cheshire and 44-year-old Steven Hayes of Winsted, are charged with capital felony, arson, sexual assault and other crimes, and could face the death penalty if convicted. Both had been released from prison on parole this year.