New York (CNN) – Almost 50 years after the death of Daniel Croteau, a Massachusetts teenager, authorities announced Monday that a Catholic priest close to the family was responsible for the crime.
On Friday, authorities were processing an arrest warrant for Richard R. Lavigne, but he died that same night at the hospital, according to reported this monday Hampden District Attorney Anthony Gulluni’s office in a statement. Lavigne had some physical ailments, Gulluni said at a news conference, and he hadn’t been well for a while.
Daniel Croteau, 13, was found dead in the Connecticut River in Chicopee, Massachusetts, on April 15, 1972, in clothes he had brought to the local Catholic school a day earlier, the prosecutor’s office said.
Daniel and his four brothers were altar boys for Lavigne at St. Catherine of Siena in Springfield, according to prosecutors. The priest also took Croteau and his siblings on field trips without their parents on multiple occasions, and the priest had invited Daniel and his siblings to stay at their parents’ home in Chicopee a few times as well, Gulluni said.
Lavigne was removed from office by the Catholic Church in 2004 because he had received numerous sexual complaints against him, according to Mark Dupont, a spokesman for the Diocese of Springfield.
“Danny’s parents, Carl and Bernice, told reporters they just wanted answers. Based on the accumulation of historical evidence, the evidence obtained in the last year and the admissions of Richard Lavigne, I believe we now have those answers, “Gulluni said in a statement.
“Although formal justice has not fallen on Richard Lavigne here on this earth, we now hope to provide answers and some degree of closure to Danny’s family,” he added.
A mysterious letter was investigated
In March 2020, Gulluni’s office again took an interest in Croteau’s death, in collaboration with the detective and unsolved units of the Massachusetts State Police.
Investigators reviewed thousands of documents, decades of evidence and also focused on a letter Lavigne told investigators he had received from the teen’s killer in 2004 admitting guilt, according to Gulluni’s office. The letter was not signed.
A forensic linguistics expert examined the letter on March 5, 2021, and compared it to other letters written by Lavigne, according to the prosecutor’s office. The May 21 exam report said that the ‘language patterns in the document in question are consistent with the language patterns in known Lavigne documents to the point that Richard R. Lavigne cannot be excluded as a possible candidate for authorship ”.
Meanwhile, investigators interrogated Lavigne for about 11 hours over several days in April and May 2021, according to the prosecutor’s office. The excommunicated priest refused to admit he had killed Daniel and tried to mislead and distract investigators, Gulluni’s office said.
However, Lavigne also made statements suggesting that he took Croteau to the riverbank on April 14, 1972, physically assaulted him and returned a little later to discover the teenager lying face down in the river, the prosecutor said.
Lavigne did not notify the police or Croteau’s parents, Gulluni’s office stated.
Croteau’s brother thanks the researchers
Joe Croteau, Daniel’s brother, said he was grateful to investigators for bringing the case to completion.
“I also want to thank all the people who have stepped forward, when it was not a good time, to give the district attorney, his staff, and the state police the information they needed to get to this point,” said Croteau. at a press conference.
“We are disappointed that he cannot be brought to justice, but like the district attorney, we believe there is a higher power, and he will stand up to that higher power.”
Lavigne had been arrested in 1991 for sexual abuse of minors and was removed from the church, according to Dupont, the spokesman for the diocese.
In 1992, according to the statement of the facts of the police investigation, Lavigne received a 10-year suspended sentence for indecent assault and injury to a person over 14 years of age, and for indecent assault and injury to a person under 14. Both were altar boys. , according to the police statement.
The bishop of the Diocese of Springfield issued a statement following Gulluni’s announcement, apologizing to the Croteau family.
“It is incredibly heartbreaking to know that a priest, a person ordained to care for God’s people, has committed such a heinous crime and then failed to take responsibility for his actions,” Bishop William D. Byrne said. “All this is totally contrary to the teachings in which we, as Catholics, believe and consider sacred.”
“It is also another reminder of our past failures as a Church and a diocese to protect children and young adults from these terrible predators in our environment. While we have made great strides in improving our child protection efforts, that is little consolation to the victims of Richard Lavigne and the many other sexually predatory clergy who preyed on our youth.