TAUNTON — George and Rosemary Heath had just ordered drinks at the bar at Bertucci’s when they saw a man holding the back of a waitress’s shirt and repeatedly stabbing her, as she screamed for help.
Rosemary Heath grabbed a chair to protect herself while her husband leapt up and tried to wrap his arms around the man to stop him. But the attacker pulled his arms upward, broke free, and stabbed George Heath in the head, killing him.
Moments later, an off-duty sheriff’s deputy who was having dinner with his wife nearby stood up, displayed his badge, screamed that he was a law-enforcement officer, and ordered the attacker to drop the knife. When he didn’t, the deputy, James Creed, shot the man once in the stomach, killing him.
Heath and Creed were credited Wednesday with helping to prevent further bloodshed by the suspect, Arthur J. DaRosa, whose horrific rampage Tuesday included several attempted carjackings and a home invasion that killed an 80-year-old woman and severely injured her 58-year-old daughter.
As authorities pieced together the suspect’s history, a picture began to emerge of a man who was often able to hide the serious mental health issues he was wrestling with. Earlier in the day, he had gone to work and watched one of his children practice soccer — all after spending part of Monday in a local hospital.
DaRosa, 28, had been battling depression for years, relatives said, and had recently talked about killing himself.
“All he kept saying was the devil was playing tricks on him and was going to poison the minds of his children,” DaRosa’s sister, Kerri DeVries, told the Boston Herald.
At DeVries’s urging, DaRosa was taken to Morton Hospital in Taunton on Monday, where he was brought to the emergency room and then to a psychiatric ward, officials said.
The hospital released DaRosa several hours later, on Tuesday morning, for reasons that are not immediately clear, said Bristol District Attorney Thomas M. Quinn III.
“He wasn’t treated for his mental sickness,” Liz DaRosa, an aunt, said at a news conference Wednesday.
State health officials said Wednesday that they would review how Morton Hospital handled DaRosa’s case. The hospital said federal law bars it from disclosing confidential patient information.
Quinn said it is not known whether DaRosa was diagnosed with mental illness or what role that might have played in the attacks.
“The irrational nature of his behavior speaks for itself,” Quinn said at a press conference. “We are not sure what set him off.’’
DaRosa had a criminal record that includes multiple violations of a restraining order and a 2008 drug conviction that landed him in jail for nine months. Police said he was found in a car with two white bags of crack cocaine and a scale in the 2008 case. The most recent charge was six years ago, Quinn said.
DaRosa’s longtime girlfriend, Samantha Shaheen, said in a statement Wednesday that she and DaRosa had separated about a month ago. She called DaRosa “a good father” to their children, ages 3 and 5.
“This was not in any way foreseen at all,” said the statement, released by an attorney, Frank Biedak. “There was no indication whatsoever.”
After DaRosa was released from the hospital Tuesday, his day apparently started normally. In the morning, he went to his job at J&S McLaughlin, a construction company in
“Kid worked yesterday without a problem,” said the owner, who declined to give his name.
Then DaRosa watched one of his children’s soccer practice at a field on Myricks Street. After that, officials said, DaRosa left in his girlfriend’s Honda Accord, and the bloodshed began.
DaRosa slammed the car into a Ford pickup truck stopped on Myricks Street, Quinn said. Teresa Perry heard the twisting metal from inside her home. Outside, she saw the truck, with a damaged windshield and driver’s side door, in her front lawn.
Perry said she told her daughter to call 911 and approached the driver of the truck, a woman who was bleeding from her head.
“I sat her down on the lawn and applied pressure to the wound,” Perry said Wednesday, as she swept debris from the crash in her driveway. “There was a lot of blood.”
Meanwhile, DaRosa tried to break into houses on Myricks Street, officials said. Finally, he managed to get into a small cottage where Patricia Slavin and her daughter, Kathleen Slavin, were finishing dinner.
“Where’s your gun?” DaRosa demanded of the women, after rummaging through their drawers, according to the Rev. Kevin Cook, the pastor at Holy Family Parish in Taunton, who spoke to Kathleen Slavin after the attack.
“We don’t have a gun here,” the Slavins told DaRosa.
DaRosa knocked the women to the floor, grabbed a knife from their kitchen, and stabbed them, Cook said. Perry said she heard screams coming from the Slavins’ home across the street. “No one knew that these poor girls were down over there,” she said.
Patricia Slavin, a retired nurse and faithful churchgoer who loved to bake and garden, was killed. Kathleen Slavin survived but was listed in serious condition in the intensive care unit at Brigham and Women’s Hospital on Wednesday.
“She’s very alert but also in a state of shock about the whole thing,” Cook said.
After stabbing the Slavins, DaRosa tried to stop several drivers on Myricks Street and steal their cars, officials said.
“He was in the road. He started banging on windows,’’ said a neighbor, Erica Lyford. “Someone started yelling, ‘He’s trying to carjack someone!’ ”
But DaRosa was unable to commandeer any cars, so he jumped into his damaged Honda and sped away, Quinn said. He was spotted several minutes later, when he crashed the car into the glass doors of Macy’s at the Silver City Galleria mall, about four miles away.
“Everyone thought it was a car accident,” said Amanda Stroud, 17, who was in the Clinique section of Macy’s and rushed to help the driver. “Then he started assaulting a woman.”
Stroud said DaRosa slammed a woman to the ground and began pummeling her. Then he chased Stroud and a friend. They both ran out of Macy’s and got into Stroud’s car, which was parked near Bertucci’s.
Authorities said DaRosa assaulted three women in Macy’s: Wendy Ann Oliveira, 45, of Berkley, and Laura Miola, 65, and Jucelia Gleason, 38, both of Taunton. All are expected to recover. Only Miola remained hospitalized Wednesday.
Later, Stroud said, she realized she and DaRosa had grown up on the same block in Taunton.
“He chased us to our car,” Stroud said. “Then he started charging at people,” and headed toward Bertucci’s.
“He was silent,” she said. “We were hysterical and crying.”
Inside Bertucci’s, DaRosa grabbed a knife from the restaurant and started stabbing Sheenah Savoy, 26, a waitress.
“She was screaming, ‘Help me! Help me! Help me!’ ” Rosemary Heath told WCVB-TV. Her husband, George Heath, lunged at the attacker.
“My husband was struggling with him to get the knife away,” Heath told the station.
George Heath, 56, a visual arts teacher at New Bedford Regional Vocational Technical High School, was killed in the struggle.
Jodi LaChance said she and her friend were sharing a pizza, seated near several older women and a family of four when they saw people running from the mall, including a woman clutching a baby. A man, who she later learned was DaRosa, headed toward the exit, then stopped and walked inside the restaurant.
“We see him stabbing our waitress about 12 feet away from us,” said LaChance, 40, of Tiverton, R.I., who feared a terrorist attack or mass shooting.
“My friend yelled, ‘Let’s get out of here!’ ”
LaChance said she unbolted a door leading into the mall and as she fled caught a glimpse of a man in a shooting stance holding a gun.
That’s when Creed, 35, a 12-year veteran of the Plymouth County sheriff’s department, using his personal firearm, shot and killed DaRosa, officials said. If he hadn’t, Rosemary Heath said, “I would’ve been next.”
Quinn said both Heath and Creed were heroes.
Heath “saw the waitress being stabbed, and, without concern for his own safety, he intervened and quite possibly saved her life and the lives of others, including his own wife,” Quinn said.
Creed, meanwhile, “reacted in a professional but heroic manner,” Quinn said. “He prevented further carnage from occurring by his actions.”
Shelley Murphy, Kathy McCabe , and John R. Ellement of the Globe staff contributed to this report. Michael Levenson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @mlevenson.