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Westerly shooting suspect was once deemed ‘homicidal and suicidal,’ records indicate

Three women were shot Thursday morning at Babcock Village at 122 Cross St. in Westerly, R.I.David L. Ryan/Globe Staff

WESTERLY, R.I. — The man who allegedly killed one woman and wounded two others at the Babcock Village apartments on Thursday had previously been considered “homicidal and suicidal” for wanting to buy a gun to kill his wife in 2002, court papers show.

Joseph A. Giachello, 66, killed himself in his apartment after allegedly shooting the three women, Westerly Police Chief Shawn Lacey said. The police found a handgun with Giachello but were still investigating the motive.

Lacey said police had “contact” with Giachello before, but he declined to be specific.

Giachello had been married in 2002, but his wife filed for divorce less than a year later, citing “extreme cruelty” and abuse.

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They separated in August 2002, after only four months of marriage, and then Giachello disappeared.

He resurfaced in September 2002, when he spoke about going to Walmart to buy a gun to kill his wife and himself, according to divorce papers.

Giachello was hospitalized and emergency-certified at Butler Hospital in Providence and another hospital in Rhode Island, according to the papers, which were filed in March 2003 in Newport Family Court. His wife was awarded a three-year protective order.

What led to the shooting in the office and main entrance at the private housing complex Thursday is still unknown.

Julie Lynn Cardinal, 47, a hard-working single mother who was a new manager at Babcock Village, was killed. Robin Moss, 38, of Cranston, who is also a manager there, was fighting for her life at Yale New Haven Hospital. Donna Thornley, a 66-year-old resident, was recovering from a gunshot wound at Rhode Island Hospital.

Police had rushed to the apartment after getting frantic 911 calls at 10:32 a.m. about the shooting. They found the women shot and bleeding in the front office and main entrance. Rescuers came in to aid the women, even as the police searched for the gunman.

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Schools and local buildings went into lockdown for hours. At Christ Episcopal Church, the Reverend Sunil Chandy locked the door and led the staff and volunteers in prayers. He called his teenagers to tell them to stay inside, and they told him: Dad, don’t die.

People waited for word about what had happened — and who had been hurt.

This town is small enough where people know each other easily, through work, or community functions, church and gatherings. It’s also small enough where people are proud to say they don’t feel the need to lock their doors. The police chief was stumped when asked the last homicide occurred in town.

“This thing you say can never happen in a town like this, happened in a town like this,” said town councilor Caswell Cooke Jr., executive director of the Misquamicut Business Association.

“Everyone is reaching out. Our town is upset. I don’t think anyone slept well last night,” Cooke said Friday morning. “It’s strange to know someone who was murdered, especially in Westerly.”

Cooke had met Cardinal when she volunteered to help after Tropical Storm Sandy decimated the beach in 2012. They worked out of a small trailer near the beach, coordinating hundreds of volunteers to go out to help people whose properties were ruined or destroyed in the storm. Cardinal was so energetic and such a leader that the business association hired her.

“She was a ball of fire, one of those people who said what was on her mind,” Cooke said. “She was one of those ladies that you wouldn’t mess with. She was strong. She was a leader. She wasn’t afraid of rolling up her sleeves and getting into it.”

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At the local radio station WBLQ, president and owner Chris DiPaola remembered Cardinal as an energetic and outspoken woman. She’d cohosted shows on local politics — “Westerly Tidings,” and “Cardinal Knowledge” with local attorney Robert Lombardo.

“Today is kind of like the day the earth stood still,” DiPaola said. “We’re in mourning. In shock.”

When he led the church staff in prayer during the lockdown, Chandy said, he hadn’t thought about whether he might know one of the victims.

He found out that he did. Cardinal had attended services at Christ Episcopal Church, and her children were baptized here.

“It feels like innocence lost in Westerly, R.I., this beach community, where everyone knows each other,” Chandy said. “It’s kind of strange. You hear it in the news, but don’t expect it in your neighborhood, with people you know and love.”

On Friday evening, at 6 p.m., the church will hold an ecumenical candlelight vigil for the community. They are inviting other faith leaders from town and from neighboring Stonington, Conn., and the police chiefs, first responders, families and friends of the victims.

Chandy said they will also pray for Giachello. He didn’t know the man, but he sees a lesson that matters.

“Anyone can do violence,” Chandy said. “Julie was a hardworking woman and a mother, who chose to be positive. The opposite choice is to seek despair, anger, and then violence.

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“The idea,” he added, “is to pray that everyone makes the better choice.”


Amanda Milkovits can be reached at amanda.milkovits@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @AmandaMilkovits.