(NEWTON, Mass.) — It was supposed to be a day of celebration with the renewal of the wedding vows they took 50 years ago, but when Bruno and Gilda “Jill” D’Amore failed to show up for the ceremony at their church on Sunday, a friend went to their Newton, Massachusetts, home and discovered the couple and Jill D’Amore’s 97-year-old mother stabbed and bludgeoned to death, authorities said.
Now, questions are swirling around why a 41-year-old man arrested Monday and charged in the triple homicide allegedly targeted the three elderly victims, described by their parish priest as “salt of the earth people.”
The suspect, Christopher Ferguson, was arraigned Tuesday afternoon in Newton District Court on one count of murder and two counts of assault and battery with a dangerous weapon causing serious bodily injury. Ferguson’s attorney, Dmitry Lev, entered a not guilty plea on his behalf.
The single murder count is based on an autopsy by the state’s Office of the Chief Medical Examiner, which ruled 73-year-old Jill D’Amore’s death to be a homicide, Middlesex Assistant District Attorney Nicole Allain said in court. The autopsies for Jill D’Amore’s husband, 74-year-old Bruno D’Amore, and her mother, Lucia Arpino, are scheduled to be completed later Tuesday, and prosecutors said they anticipate filing two more murder counts against Ferguson.
Ferguson attended the hearing via Zoom. Lev did not object to the prosecution’s request to hold Ferguson without bail. Ferguson’s next court date is scheduled for July 25.
The brutal crime has shaken to the core residents in the Boston-area city ranked in a 2022 SafeWise report as the second safest city for families in America.
“At this time, we know of no established connections between the family members and Mr. Ferguson,” Middlesex County District Attorney Marian Ryan said at a Monday night news conference announcing Ferguson’s arrest.
Police have described the crime as a possible “random” act of violence.
Ryan disclosed that an autopsy performed on Jill D’Amore determined she suffered more than 30 stab and blunt force trauma injuries, primarily to the upper part of her body and head. The prosecutor also said investigators found obvious signs of an intense struggle in one of the bedrooms of the D’Amore home, including broken furniture and a crystal paperweight covered in blood.
Ryan said video surveillance footage from a home near the D’Amore residence captured Ferguson in the neighborhood at 5:20 a.m. on Sunday shirtless, barefooted and walking with a staggering gait.
The prosecutor said several Newton police officers recognized Ferguson from prior contact with him. She said Ferguson is believed to live at a residence four-tenths of a mile from the D’Amore’s home.
A neighbor of the suspect told ABC Boston affiliate station WCVB that Ferguson “struggles with mental health issues.
“He needed more help than he was getting and people who love him dearly were trying to make that happen,” the neighbor said.
Ryan said Ferguson was hospitalized for an undisclosed reason following his arrest, but she declined to comment when asked about his possible mental health problems.
A friend found the bodies just after 10 a.m. on Sunday, Allain said in court. She said the friend entered the home through an unlocked side door and found all three family members dead in one bedroom and called 911.
Allain said police investigators found signs of a break-in in the basement of the D’Amore’s home.
“There was a window that was opened and screens were pulled out,” Allain said. “There was also a door on the garage which was open and there was a window screen that was dislodged there.”
Allain said forensics investigators used the chemical agent leucocrystal violet which enhances the visability of non-visible blood and found bare footprints on the tile floor in a hallway between the bedroom where the bodies were found and the kitchen door with blood droplets next to them. She said state police investigators determined that at least one of the footprints found in the hallway matched Ferguson’s footprint, which was obtained through a court-ordered warrant.
Allain said at least that footprints matching Ferguson were found inside the D’Amore home. She said fingerprints were taken from several of the windows and doorknobs of the home, which are still being analyzed.
The last time anyone had communication with the D’Amores was about 9:30 p.m. on Saturday, Allain said.
As investigators attempt to determine a motive in the slayings, those who knew Bruno and Jill D’Amore and Arpino are mourning their deaths.
“Three beloved parishioners — salt of the earth people, just great, great people — and it’s a terrible tragedy,” Rev. Dan Riley of Our Lady Help of Christians told WCVB.
Riley said the D’Amores were scheduled to celebrate their golden wedding anniversary and renew their vows at a ceremony scheduled Our Lady Help of Christians following Mass on Sunday morning.
“When they didn’t show up — I can’t go into the details about who discovered them — but we became notified, and myself and a number of the staff spent the day there” at the D’Amore home, Riley said.
In a statement released Monday by Our Lady Help of Christians Church called the slayings a “senseless act of violence.”
The D’Amores were the parents of three grown children and were dedicated to serving their church, according to the statement. Prior to the COVID pandemic, Arpino never missed a 10 a.m. mass in her more than 60 years as a parishioner, the statement said. Arpino and her late husband, Alberto Arpino, who died in 2014 at the age of 87, attended services together, always sitting in the north end section of the church, according to the statement.
Lucia Arpino participated in the church’s Mt. Carmel Festival weekend every summer, walking in the festival’s procession through the streets of her neighborhood in the Nonantum section of Newton well into her 90s, the statement reads.
Jill D’Amore took on the task of beautifying the church, spending countless hours caring for the flowers and decorations for the liturgical sessions, according to the statement. Bruno D’Amore was known for his big voice and “exuberant personality,” the statement says. He was also described as the church’s “head chef,” flipping burgers at church picnics, according to the statement.
The couple is also survived by five grandchildren, according to the statement.
Newton Mayor Ruthanne Fuller said in a statement that the slayings of the three family members have impacted residents of the community far beyond their church.
“I have heard from so many neighbors and friends about how much these three people meant to their tight-knit neighborhood. I speak for the people of Newton when I say our hearts and prayers are with you,” Fuller said of the family of the D’Amores and Arpino.
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