As Sheffield deals with recent deaths, 'there are no words'
The day warm, and the ground thick with icy puddles and mud, state police fire marshal detectives and Sheffield Police worked in and around the two-story carriage-style house off Home Road.
Members of a cleanup crew that began working Thursday took a pizza break near their truck before heading back inside. Soon, the windows and doors would be boarded up to keep people out, said the owner of the company.
South Berkshire County is still in shock and grieving the deaths of Luke Karpinski and his wife, Justine Wilbur, both 41. Along with Wilbur, the couple's three young children also were believed to have been killed by their father.
On Thursday, Berkshire District Attorney Andrea Harrington said the deaths are being investigated as a murder-suicide, with Karpinski identified as the likely assailant. She would not say whether weapons were involved, how and when Karpinski might have started the fire, or answer questions pertaining to whether Wilbur and the children were dead before the fire was set.
Harrington said the ongoing investigation is "complicated" and "comprehensive."
By Friday afternoon, Harrington's office had not released any new details about the investigation.
And the Karpinski and Wilbur families declined to speak further about the tragedy for the time being.
The first 911 calls came early Wednesday to report a structure fire with heavy smoke. In a first search, firefighters found Wilbur's body downstairs. Karpinski's body was found in a second search upstairs along with those of 7-year-old twins Alex and Zoe, as well as Marek, 3.
Wilbur's blue Subaru was found in the middle of the driveway, facing the road with the keys inside. It had been moved to a neighbor's driveway by responding firefighters, and was seen back at the home Friday. Karpinski's red GMC truck was still in the garage.
Meanwhile, this small rural community, already lamenting this loss, is now grappling with uncertainty and disbelief as to why Karpinski might have killed his family.
So far, there are no clues.
Neither Karpinski nor his wife had a record in southern and central Berkshire District Court, and there were no filings in Probate and Family Court. Neighbors and others who over the past two years watched as the family's home was built off this well-traveled artery between Sheffield and Great Barrington say the couple was quiet, private and kind. There were no signs anything was amiss, said one neighbor, who said she had never seen police called to the property on which the family lived in a trailer while the home was being built.
Alex and Zoe would catch the bus to Undermountain Elementary School, a neighbor said.
The town's tax collector said the couple was up to date on property taxes through the third quarter, which was due Feb. 1.
The couple was from the Berkshires, having met as seniors at Wahconah Regional High School. They moved away for college and eventually began their careers in the patent industry.
Wilbur, who also had a master's degree in chemistry, was a patent attorney at a firm in Albany, N.Y. Karpinski worked from home as a federal chemical patent examiner. His profile on the Department of Commerce's Patent and Trademark webpage says his salary was $109,000 in 2017.
The page says he had also worked as a patent examiner in New Hampshire, Littleton, as well as in Alexandria, Va., where the couple lived for about six years, according to Wilbur's sister, Kristen Wilbur.
Wilbur's LinkedIn page shows that, since 2013, she worked at three different law firms in Massachusetts before she was hired in May 2017 by Hoffman Warnick Intellectual Property Law in Albany.
Spencer Warnick, a member of the firm, declined to comment Friday, citing "respect for the family."
The firm had issued a statement Thursday lauding Wilbur's expertise and her "infectious spirit and energy." The statement said her colleagues are facing "grief and immeasurable sorrow" over the loss of "a true friend to everyone in our firm."
While the investigation continues, the community sets out to heal.
At the Southern Berkshire Regional School District's three-school campus, extra counselors have been on hand for students, staff, parents and other community members, district Superintendent Beth Regulbuto said in an email. Therapy dogs were also brought in for comfort.
Teachers have been given scripts to help them speak to students in ways that are appropriate for their age, and the schools will provide extra support in the coming weeks, she added.
And Erik Karas, a former volunteer firefighter and currently a priest at Christ Trinity Church, has offered an ear. The church is holding a community gathering Saturday evening at First Congregational Church.
On Friday, people gathered at Our Lady of the Valley Parish to "pray for the souls of the deceased and all those affected by recent violence." More events are planned for later in the month.
It has been a hard time for Sheffield. The tragedy unfolded as news spread that 24-year-old Samya Stumo, a town native, had died in Sunday's Ethiopian jetliner crash. And late last month, a single-car accident on Berkshire School Road killed Jesus Santos, 19. Both were graduates of Mount Everett Regional High School, which is on the same campus as the elementary school.
The communities of Sheffield and Great Barrington are deeply intertwined, and the multiple shocks prompted a Facebook post from a Great Barrington town official.
"How is anyone still standing?" wrote Ed Abrahams. "My heart is breaking for Sheffield and the families. Too much for our small community. There are no words."
Eagle staff writer Kristin Palpini contributed to this report.
TALK TO US
If you'd like to leave a comment (or a tip or a question) about this story with the editors, please email us. We also welcome letters to the editor for publication; you can do that by filling out our letters form and submitting it to the newsroom.