Slain mother, teen returned from N.Y. for their funerals

Pair killed by husband, who killed himself

February 27, 2007|By Gus G. Sentementes | Gus G. Sentementes,sun reporter

The killings shocked the small town of Lake Peekskill, N.Y, leaving people to wonder why a nuclear engineer would strangle his daughter and wife -- who grew up in South Baltimore -- and then take his life.

For relatives left behind, the reasons for the tragic double-murder and suicide may never be known.

Kathy Lessard, 48, and her 14-year-old daughter, Linda, were found dead in their bedrooms this month by authorities after relatives reported losing contact with them for days. Steven Lessard, 51, a senior engineer at a nuclear power plant, was found dead at the top of the stairs.

New York State police believe that Lessard, who had been placed on paid leave from his job a week before the killings, had emotional problems that drove him to kill his wife and daughter. Autopsies showed that he strangled his wife with his hands and killed his daughter with a ligature, possibly a rope. Lessard then drove a steak knife into his own groin, severing a major artery and causing him to bleed to death, authorities said.

Stunned relatives from South Baltimore drove to the family's New York home as soon as they learned of the deaths. The family planned a funeral service for Kathy and Linda Lessard today at Gonce Funeral Home on Ritchie Highway in Brooklyn Park. Steven Lessard's remains were cremated and sent to Illinois, where he grew up, according to Michael Aro, a nephew of Kathy Lessard.

"Everybody's angry," said Aro, 38. "Everybody's been at the funeral home. People are coming in, and they're numb. They're shocked."

Aro said his aunt grew up on Belt Street in South Baltimore, the youngest of five siblings, including an older stepbrother, Edward Aro, who is a retired Baltimore police detective. Aro said his aunt met Lessard, a graduate of the Naval Academy, through church activities when she was living in Baltimore and working as a secretary for the state of Maryland. In the mid-1990s, they moved to New York after Lessard took a position at the Indian Point nuclear power plant on the Hudson River.

The couple were married 18 years and their only daughter, Linda, was in middle school. Aro said the family lived in a nice home and that Steven Lessard provided "very well for them."

But Aro said the man was known as controlling. He almost never let his wife visit her family without him. Aro said he thinks his aunt suffered emotional abuse from her husband, though she never talked about her relationship.

Capt. Keith Corlett, a spokesman for the New York State Police, said police had never received a domestic violence complaint before the killings. The first sign of trouble was Feb. 8, when Lessard exhibited "aberrant behavior" at work, which led his managers to place him on leave and order him to seek medical attention. He was screened and evaluated by a psychiatrist, Corlett said.

"They were a very middle-class family," said Corlett. "If something can be learned of this, it's that people need to seek professional treatment and get professional help so something like this doesn't happen."

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