EAST BROOKFIELD — A few weeks after his wife and three young children were stabbed to death in their West Brookfield home, Moses Bermudez got a visit from his cousin, who offered condolences.
The cousin, Mathew Locke, 32, cried as he spoke to Bermudez about the tragedy that claimed his family, according to a friend who witnessed the exchange.
On Wednesday, Locke appeared in a courtroom accused of four counts of murder after DNA evidence linked him to the killings of Bermudez’s family, prosecutors said.
The killer had stabbed Sara Bermudez, 38, and her children, Madison, 8, James, 6, and Michael, 2, and then set fire to the Cape-style home, where they were found dead on March 1, according to police.
Before his cousin’s arraignment in East Brookfield District Court, Moses Bermudez, 44, addressed reporters.
“I just want someone to be held accountable,” said Bermudez, who was in California working as a longshoreman when his family was killed. “It’s hard, but I’ve just got to move on and look forward to my time when I can see them in heaven.”
He started to cry as he paused for breath.
“I just want to know why,” Bermudez said.
Earlier in the day, Worcester District Attorney Joseph D. Early Jr. did not disclose a motive for the slayings but said Moses Bermudez is not a suspect.
The case is “very complex” and remains open, he said.
Locke pleaded not guilty to murder charges and was ordered held without bail. His next court date is scheduled for Oct. 18.
The evidence tying Locke to the homicides began to emerge on March 9, when crime lab technicians informed investigators that a DNA profile had been lifted from one of the children, according to a police report filed in court.
Ten days later, Locke let State Police investigators take a cheek swab to examine his DNA, the report said. On March 23, detectives learned the DNA profile lifted from the murdered child matched the sample provided by Locke, the report said.
Investigators interviewed Locke the same day, quizzing him about his visits to the Bermudez home on Old Warren Road. The interrogation prompted detectives to arrest Locke on charges that he lied to investigators. He has been held on $10,000 bail since late March.
Police also allege a vehicle tied to Locke was seen leaving his home in Ware on Feb. 28, shortly before the killings occurred and then returned after Sara Bermudez and her children had died, the report said. The victims were found dead in an upstairs bedroom by Moses Bermudez’s father, who went to check on the family at his son’s request because Sara Bermudez wasn’t answering her phone.
The friend who was with Locke when he offered his condolences to Moses Bermudez a few weeks after the murders said there was no indication that Locke was responsible for the violence.
“It’s disgusting to do that to your own family,” said the man, who asked that his name be withheld because he doesn’t want to be associated with the case. “I’m sick to my stomach that I even knew the kid.”
Moses Bermudez’s sister, Rachaul, who lives in Florida, said she was stunned and recalled seeing Locke at her mother’s house in Ware after the murders. Locke’s mother, Marla Lyons, and Anita Bermudez, the matriarch of the Bermudez family, are sisters.
“He was so quiet, I just thought it was kind of weird,’’ Rachaul Bermudez said in a telephone interview on Wednesday. “It was like somebody with no emotions.”
She said her mother and Lyons are close and were focused on keeping Locke, who had struggled with opioid addiction, out of trouble. Locke had moved back to Massachusetts in September 2017 after serving several years behind bars in Maine for trying to burn down a mobile home in Lubec, Lyons has said.
His criminal record includes cases in Maine and Massachusetts, where he has been charged with theft, larceny, and receiving stolen property, and he faced abuse allegations from a woman with whom he had a child, documents show.
“My mom was best friends with Matt. He was always going over there and hanging out with mom,” said Rachaul Bermudez. “She always said Matt was so quiet. . . . She was just sitting there, reading a book and he was just looking at his phone. They just sat like buddies.”
Lyons couldn’t be reached Wednesday and her home in Ware appeared to be deserted.
In an interview with the Globe earlier this year, Lyons said she told a grand jury that Locke was at home in Ware when the killings occurred and noted that Moses Bermudez had baby-sat for her son when he was little. Investigators focused on him because of his criminal record, she said.
The charges against Locke provided some closure in West Brookfield, where the grisly deaths had been shrouded in mystery for months and speculation focused on whether the savage gang MS-13 had played a role in the killings.
The possible link to MS-13 surfaced while investigators looked into Locke’s account of his visit with Moses Bermudez after the murders.
During the visit, Locke claimed Bermudez told him to pay attention to the news, because anyone associated with MS-13 was going to get hurt and die. Locke, prosecutors said in court filings, had falsely “indicated that members of MS-13 were responsible for the murders.”
Locke’s friend said Moses Bermudez never mentioned the gang, while Moses Bermudez told police that the meeting never took place at all, according to police reports in the earlier case.
Dave Gambino, 40, who lives near Locke in Ware, said he kept to himself. “You just don’t know your neighbors as well as you think,” he said.
In the West Brookfield neighborhood where the Bermudez family lived, Raymond Haire said he knew the killings weren’t random.
He said, “Who else would come out here to do something like that?”John Ellement and Travis Andersen of the Globe staff contributed. Crimaldi can be reached at laura.crimaldi @globe.com. Campbell can be reached at jerome.campbell @globe.com.