Friends in disbelief over apparent murder-suicide in Sheffield

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SHEFFIELD — Lindsie Kane remembers how Luke Karpinski got her 7-year-old daughter to try different foods at the dinner table.

Sitting in Dunkin' this week, she explains how she trusted this man with her daughter, amid endless play dates and family time with Karpinski's 7-year-old twins, Alex and Zoe.

And she laments how her daughter was supposed to have her first sleepover at the twins' house this weekend.

Kane is heartbroken and in disbelief about what authorities say likely happened in her friends' home last week — that Karpinski, 41, killed the twins, his wife, Justine Wilbur, and their 3-year-old son, Marek, before setting the house on fire and committing suicide.

The Berkshire District Attorney's Office has said it has "overwhelming evidence" that Karpinski was the assailant, and an accelerant was used to start the fire, but it has otherwise declined to elaborate. The state Medical Examiner's Office has yet to release the cause of death for any of the family members.

"This was a man who was nothing but devoted to his kids and his wife," she said, noting that there were never any signs that something was amiss. "It doesn't matter what happened — people need to remember them as they were."

Kane and her husband, Matthew Kane, live near the family's house on Home Road. But even before they were neighbors, they got to know each other when the children were in preschool together at Undermountain Elementary School.

In 2017, Karpinski and Wilbur bought a lot off this winding artery between Great Barrington and Sheffield, put a trailer on it and began building the carriage-style home. Both worked in the patent industry — Karpinski as a federal patent examiner, and Wilbur as a patent attorney for a firm in Albany, N.Y.

Neighbors and those who met them said they were a private and quiet couple.

But during this time, the Kanes got to know the family even better. And Kane became close friends with Wilbur, 41.

"We went on a walk every day in the summer, talked at least three to four times a week and had hourlong conversations," she said. And her husband and Karpinski "related well," she said. "They had a lot in common."

She describes the family life of her friends as child-centered, with a lot of typical outings, like going to Lake Onota in Pittsfield.

"It didn't have to be the best of everything," Kane said. "Just done with love and care and as a family."

The twins tried different activities, like soccer, karate and swimming, where Matthew Kane and Karpinski would talk while the children were in their lessons.

"If anything, when you first met him, he maybe seemed a little reclusive — he was a little quiet and kept to himself," Matthew Kane said in a phone interview. "He was a personable guy, but he didn't seem super open until you got to know him."

Kane, a carpenter and contractor, said his family spent some time during the holidays at Karpinski and Wilbur's newly finished home.

"They were super excited to show the house off," he said. "It was built so they could add on to it. The kids were only going to get older and want more space. He was like me — doing handyman stuff around the house, staining stuff and finishing up stuff he wanted to do himself."

Kane said the couple didn't appear to be inflexible with each other.

"It never seemed like one was super controlling," he said. "They'd drive each other's cars all the time. She'd drive his truck. They just went with whatever was convenient."

And Wilbur, he said, was doing her best to help out around the house with a job that took her to Albany several days a week while Karpinski worked from home.

"At home, she was trying to even out the time with Luke a bit because he was home all the time," Kane said.

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Devoted parents

Lindsie Kane said Karpinski and Wilbur were focused on the children's education, and had an appointment scheduled at a local private school for Marek, who was having some learning difficulties.

They were also highly responsible parents, Matthew Kane said.

"They knew that I had a couple guns, and they would make sure that the guns were locked before they'd let the kids over," he said. "It was regular for the kids to be up there, or the twins to be at our house together."

The family had two small dogs, but Karpinski had arranged to have a German shepherd trained as a guard dog to protect the children when they played outside.

"They weren't used to living in a rural area," Matthew Kane said. "It was just for their own peace of mind."

When Alex got poison ivy, Karpinski was out on his hands and knees for weeks pulling it, Lindsie Kane said.

"He was always working outside, and they were always doing a project at the house," she said.

There was no drinking or smoking. And as far as she knew, neither had been medicated for depression or any other condition.

"I never saw them drink," Kane said. "They might have had one glass of wine at our wedding."

They were organized, and appeared to be careful with money.

"They used their money for what they needed, and to save for the children's future," Kane said.

On relationships, Wilbur always had some wisdom about the art of working it out with a long-term partner, she added. It is unclear when Wilbur and Karpinski were married, but the two had been high school sweethearts, and together for 20 years.

Kane, who has organized a memorial service in Sheffield this weekend for the family and other victims of recent tragedies, says she worries about the swirl of rumors reaching the ears of children who are trying to digest the loss.

"We're keeping her happy and keeping her occupied," she said of her daughter. "She asks questions right out of the blue and we'll answer them in the best way. But adults should be more conscious about what they're talking about."

Kane said she struggles to understand what could have motivated Karpinski to do what investigators say is what likely transpired sometime before he also apparently set the home ablaze. The first 911 calls came in just after 7:45 a.m., when families along Home Road were scrambling to get their children to school.

Still in her slippers, Kane was one of the first to the scene, and watched as "the air was on fire" around the house, knowing the family was inside.

"They were good people — they were great people," she said. "The kids were their life."

Matthew Kane is also flummoxed.

"There's nothing about Luke that would ever indicate that he could even be capable of anything like this," he said. "If he could do this, then in my mind anybody could do this."

Heather Bellow can be reached at hbellow@berkshireeagle.com or on Twitter @BE_hbellow and 413-329-6871.


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