They had just finished singing “Joy to the World” outside the window of a woman recovering from a stroke. It was Sunday afternoon and the Christmas carolers from a Mattapan church next launched into “Silent Night” when all was no longer calm.
Out of nowhere, a 77-year-old caroler named Dorothy was struck in the head, so suddenly that she thought “something must have fallen from the house.”
Instead it was possibly the most un-Christmasy thing to happen to anyone, much less a senior bringing good tidings to her neighbors: a fist, the first strike from an unseen attacker who hit her, again and again, from behind.
“My head was literally spinning,” said Dorothy, who asked that her last name not be used out of concern for her safety. “They just started punching me all in my head and my back.”
She was with a small group from the Episcopal Church of the Holy Spirit Mattapan who had gathered outside a house on Johnston Road in Dorchester, the first stop in an annual tradition of singing to other parishioners who are sick or elderly and could use some holiday cheer. A second caroler, an 82-year-old woman, was also punched from behind.
The Rev. Zenetta M. Armstrong of the Holy Spirit church called the unprovoked attack “just such a revelation of the times we live in, with the lack of care and concern for human life.”
Boston police have identified two boys, ages 15 and 16, and interviewed both, with their parents present, according to a BPD report. Both admitted punching the carolers, officers said in their report, with the older one telling them the carolers had been staring at him shortly beforehand. He said he believed he’d punched a man in the face, police wrote.
Their identities were not released, but authorities plan to seek assault and battery charges against them in juvenile court in Dorchester, according to the police report. Police continue to seek the identity of the third person involved.
Both women declined treatment at the scene, according to the police report, but Dorothy said she has been suffering from head pain and was later diagnosed with a mild concussion.
On Wednesday, she said she’s on the mend, at least physically, and has been trying to keep her holiday spirit by making Christmas ornaments.
“I still feel a little bit shaky about the whole thing,” she said. “I haven’t been out of the house since it happened.”
Police located video footage that shows three people meeting on the street and then walking up a short driveway toward the carolers, according to the report. It doesn’t appear the assault itself was captured on video.
Officers spoke to a witness who told them he saw three people “plotting,” according to the report. The witness told police that the trio sneaked up on the carolers and counted to three before punching them.
Armstrong said there is a level of societal responsibility for the actions of the teenagers.
“People don’t become like that without learning it from the environment they live in,” she said.
On Johnston Street, Shinnika Trotman said the carolers were singing to her grandmother at the time of the attack. She said her grandmother was enjoying the singing, then suddenly heard yelling.
“Why would you do that to some elderly people?” Trotman said. “It’s ridiculous.”
Trotman said Johnston Road is generally quiet. It’s a one-block, cut-through street between busy Blue Hill Avenue and Harvard Street, lined by triple-deckers. One house across the street from where the carolers gathered was decked out for the holidays with a life-sized Santa, sparkly candy canes, and an inflatable penguin.
After the attack, the other carolers were undeterred and sang at nine other homes in the neighborhood, Dorothy said. Though she did not continue with the group, she said she was happy to learn they didn’t stop caroling.
“Don’t let the devil steal your joy,” said Dorothy, who has been attending the Mattapan church for 30 years. She said her daughter has discouraged her from caroling anymore, but she hasn’t made up her mind yet.
Dorothy, who lives in Randolph and grew up in Boston, praised the Police Department’s response after someone called for help, and said she was pleased the local precinct captain had called her to check in.
She said she’s been thinking about what should be done to hold her attackers accountable. A friend suggested community service, but Dorothy had a specific punishment in mind.
“Maybe,” she said, “they should be made to go into nursing homes and sing Christmas carols.”