NEWTON, Mass. (AP) — Jill D’Amore helped make Our Lady Help of Christians Church beautiful, tending to flowers and decorating the parish season by season. Her mother, 97-year-old Lucia Arpino, never missed morning Mass until the coronavirus pandemic hit. And Jill’s husband, Bruno, proudly flipped burgers at the parish picnic.
Their apparently random beating and stabbing deaths over the weekend — when the church had planned to celebrate the D’Amores’ 50th wedding anniversary in a post-Communion blessing — have shaken the parish and the wider community of Newton, a city comprising a network of villages in suburban Boston.
“It's a shocking loss, the grief is horrifying. But I've got to say the love coming forth from the people has just been not surprising but so edifying and inspiring," said the church's pastor, the Rev. Dan Riley.
Christopher Ferguson, 41, pleaded not guilty Tuesday in Newton District Court to a murder charge in the death of Jill D’Amore, 73, along with two counts of assault and one count of burglary. Additional charges are expected in the deaths of Bruno D'Amore, 74, and Arpino, 97, after those autopsies are completed.
Jill D’Amore had 32 beating and stab wounds to her upper body, including her head and face, prosecutor Nicole Allain said in court.
Ferguson, also of Newton, was arrested Monday, but it appears he had no other connection to the victims, Middlesex District Attorney Marian Ryan said. Investigators have yet to identify a motive.
Judge Mary Beth Heffernan ordered Ferguson held without bail until a probable cause hearing July 25. During Tuesday’s arraignment, at least eight relatives of the victims listened silently in court as prosecutors detailed their investigation. They left without talking to reporters.
A Mass of Peace was held Tuesday evening, but reporters were not allowed inside.
“Bruno was known for his big voice and his exuberant personality,” and for being treated as “head chef” at picnics, Paul and Ginny Arpino, who were related to the victims, wrote in a letter to the church community.
Jill D’Amore, they said, had taken on the ministry of beautifying the church’s environment.
“Without a single day of liturgical training she simply followed her heart, caring for the flowers and decorating for the liturgical seasons,” they wrote.
And, they wrote, “Lucia will be especially missed on the upcoming Our Lady of Mt. Carmel Festa weekend as she faithfully walked in that procession through the streets of Nonantum well into her 90’s," referring to the heavily Italian American neighborhood where they lived.
The victims were discovered in a bedroom by a friend shortly after they failed to show up for 10 a.m. Mass on Sunday, Allain said. The friend called police, who discovered signs of forced entry through a window. Investigators found bare footprints on the tile floor, along with blood droplets and fingerprints.
Surveillance video from a nearby home showed a man with no shirt or shoes staggering not far from the D'Amores' home shortly before 5:30 a.m., Allain said. Several police officers identified the man as Ferguson, whose footprints matched bloody prints found in the home, she said.
Investigators visited Ferguson's father, who acknowledged that a photo they showed him could be his son, according to charging documents. They then visited an ex-girlfriend of Ferguson, who detailed mental health challenges he has faced since February. They finally visited the home he shared with his sister and arrested him, the documents show. Ferguson was taken to Saint Elizabeth's Medical Center for evaluation.
Several bouquets of flowers were placed on the sidewalk outside the D'Amores' home. A police car was parked in the driveway and the yard was cordoned off by yellow crime tape.
Domenic Zirolla said he first met Bruno D’Amore when they were both teenagers in Italy before they decided to move to the U.S.
“He came here before me, a couple of years before me. Then when I came, he used to come to my house all the time. Then we used to go to the clubs and dancing down the North End,” said Zirolla, 73, referring to the traditionally Italian-American neighborhood of Boston.
After Bruno married, he would still see him around the neighborhood, either at the local doughnut shop or at an annual Italian festival.
“He was a very nice guy,” Zirolla said.
Joe DiMambro said that he and Lucia Arpino came from the same town in Italy -- Sant’Elia – and that she was a cousin to his godfather. When the two joined a group on a trip to Italy years later, he said, he drove her back to the town.
“I’ve known them for all my life here,” he said. “Like I said to her. I don’t say we’re relatives, but we’re paisans.”
A neighbor from across the street recalled seeing Arpino tending to her garden and going on walks with relatives. Lou Didino said nothing like this had ever happened in the sleepy, residential neighborhood.
“It was a shock, a real shock,” the 61-year-old electrician said. “All of sudden an incident like that and now the neighborhood is tainted. You have to be careful now.”
LeBlanc reported from Cambridge, Massachusetts.