The “breaking news alert” came via email just after dinner.
“Juvenile Arrested in Connection to Death of Nicholas Parisot”
I couldn’t believe what I was reading! In the four years since it happened, the death of Nick Parisot had shifted the axis of our town, and it didn’t seem like an arrest in the case was likely to happen anytime soon. Yet finally, surprisingly, here was news of major movement.
A juvenile, who had long been considered a suspect in the case, was arrested in Placentia, CA where he and his parents, Glenn and Barbara Knight, had moved after Nick was killed. He was to be charged—as a juvenile—with second degree manslaughter.
It’s a story most everyone knows too well by now, and given the gossip and rumor mill, many people say they “know” exactly what happened. What was confirmed in was that Nick, riding his motorbike on trails in the woods of his Nod Hill neighborhood, was killed when he struck a rope that had been tied across his path.
More than physical evidence, what police needed in order to find the truth of what happened was information that could only be gathered through witness interviews. But because it was mostly minors who were purported to be at the center of the case, more than one set of parents refused to let police talk with their children.
As a result, the investigation of a case that police felt they could have solved quickly, seemed to stall.
From the start it felt like a case that could potentially tear the town apart. Some residents felt pushing for an arrest was tantamount to seeking vigilante justice, that pursuing a minor suspect would just make a tragic situation worse. Others couldn’t understand how the wheels of justice seemed to have stopped turning, and cast doubt on the ability of Wilton’s police force to close the case.
But it was actually the steadfast, committed work of the Wilton Police Department that did exactly that—and last Thursday evening in California. There to make the actual arrest was a Wilton detective who had flown 3,000 miles to get the evidence police felt they needed to make their case solid.
Standing in front of local and metropolitan New York media at a the next morning, Chief Michael Lombardo spoke in a voice that seemed emotionally charged. "This past Monday, we sent Detective Christopher Isidro to California and working with Placentia detectives, following up on some of the information they developed, it has been fruitful and gave us enough information to obtain an arrest warrant for our suspect," Lombardo said.
With town and police officials and officers flanking him, Lombardo was impassioned as he related details about the arrest. But it became obvious that solving the case was about more than just vindicating his department. He made it clear that for him, and for all the Wilton officers, the case had become something personal, something emotional and something they would have never let go until it was solved.
"We owed that to our victim and our victim's family," he said.
Lombardo thanked his detectives for their committed, hard work; he acknowledged the support his department had received from town residents and officials, and the community support of the Parisot family; and he thanked people in Wilton and elsewhere who cooperated with investigators.
But the chief was surprisingly candid in his criticism of those who hadn’t been forthcoming with detectives, in what seemed a release of pent up frustration.
“For those who have not fully cooperated with us—shame on you! Because it has taken longer than it should have to bring us where we are today for the Parisot family.”
I’ve watched this case closely from the beginning and have taken it to heart. In full disclosure, it became so important to me to support the Parisot family in a concrete way, that I took an active role in Stand Up for Nick. This press conference, however, was the first time since Nick’s death that we saw town officials break that façade of formality about the case, letting their personal connection and feelings come through once the arrest announcement was made.
Everyone involved expressed their frustration with the lack of cooperation they saw from people who potentially had crucial information. But that frustration was also very motivating, and it pushed Lombardo to send his detective to California.
“That’s where he lives, that’s where we went. If it was somewhere else, that’s where we would have gone also. The information that we developed last week was the result of a Wilton detective going out to California. That’s why we have been relentless and have not let up. And that’s why we sent someone 3,000 miles to continue this investigation. Because we owed it to Nicholas and we owed it to his family. That’s what this is all about.”
He was supported by Christopher Weldon, Wilton’s police commissioner, who like so many people in Wilton, related to the heartache of the Parisots. “My son is headed off to college, that’s where Nick would be going. So in that regard, it’s troubling and tough. I’m troubled that we had to go all the way to California to get this done. I think there was information here in town and it could have gotten done a lot quicker, a lot sooner if the appropriate people stood up and took responsibility for providing information.”
And then Weldon said something out loud that so many people in town have felt all along.
“I hope that the people who put roadblocks up as we went through this process realize their mistakes. And that the people in the community realize that this doesn’t need to happen. The person who was arrested would have this behind him, well behind him, if this was taken care of early on. And I think it’s done more damage to let it linger, not only for the Parisots but for the person arrested in this matter. So that’s what’s troubling. And I hope the takeaway is that we don’t need to go through this [again], we need to get together, we need to bring it to the forefront and deal with it. Putting things and letting them fester is only going to cause greater damage.”
Lt. Don Wakeman was one of three detectives Chief Lombardo specifically lauded for his hard work on the case, in his statement to the press. Wakeman is very straightforward and stoic, but he admits this was a case that everyone took to heart.
“This is something that we have lived and breathed for four years and two-plus months. This is an extraordinary case, it’s not a typical case that we see in Wilton. This is an investigation that all of us who’ve worked on it, that we take home with us. Days off, weekends off, you go away on vacation, personally I was always thinking about this case—what more could we do, what we needed to do, so it became very personal.”
Making that arrest does give Wakeman and his colleagues some relief. “I’m more relieved that we can provide something to the Parisot family. From a police department standpoint, closing an open case, that doesn’t really mean anything to me. It’s more—I’m really glad we got this done. Not for us, but for the Parisots. Because they have been behind us for the entire four years. I know there was a sense of frustration at times—there had to be going four-plus years. I’m sure their faith in the criminal justice system was tested, and I don’t blame them at all for that. But I’m glad that they stuck behind us. Because I always knew that we would get this done, even when some others didn’t think so. I’m glad, finally, that we can give them some sort of relief.”
It was, in fact, relief and not joy, which the news of the arrest brought. The tragedy of young lives lost, of losing faith that Wilton still had its heart and soul intact. Sadly the legacy this case leaves the town and community is the complicated fallout from, as Weldon said, some people “letting it fester.”
I had a conversation with my own son after coming home from the press conference, as perhaps unavoidably we all will have talks with our children of Wilton. Perhaps the enduring legacy that we need to create to memorialize Nick is to teach our children right from wrong, and personal responsibility over disregard for others, let alone disregard for another human being’s life.
That would be worthy of the spirit of Nick. And certainly it would be something we all owed to him and to his family.