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Sheffield incident where 5 died considered a murder-suicide

A Berkshire County Sheriff’s cruiser blocked access to the scene on Thursday.
A Berkshire County Sheriff’s cruiser blocked access to the scene on Thursday.(Jessica Rinaldi/Globe staff)

SHEFFIELD — The deaths of five people found in a fire-ravaged home in this small Western Massachusetts town on Wednesday are believed to be the result of a grisly quadruple murder-suicide, Berkshire District Attorney Andrea Harrington said.

The assailant is believed to be the father in the family, 41-year-old Luke Karpinski, whose body, along with those of his wife and children, was found in their two-story house, Harrington said at a press conference Thursday evening in Pittsfield.

The body of Justine Wilbur, a 41-year-old attorney, was found on the first floor of the home, while Karpinski and the couple’s three children, 7-year-old twins Alex and Zoe and 3-year-old Marek, were found upstairs in the home, authorities said.

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“There is no reason to believe the public is in any danger,” Harrington said.

On Thursday, law enforcement officers continued to block access to sections of Home Road near the damaged home, located in a remote, hilly, heavily wooded area of widely separated homes.

An official briefed on the investigation said Karpinski is believed to have used ignitable liquids to spread a fire in the home.

Authorities are investigating whether Wilbur was stabbed before the house fire, the official said.

Officials at the press conference Thursday did not speak about motive, did not detail what weapons were used in the slayings, and did not address the chronology of the crime.

The reason for the deaths was a mystery to neighbors and residents of this community about 120 miles west of Boston, where they were understandably shocked by the tragedy.

“They never mixed with anybody that I know of,” said Jim Collingwood, 91, who lives not far from the victims’ home on Brush Hill. “I guess they were pretty good people.”

Collingwood said he rarely saw the family on the road to the center of Sheffield, about 4 miles away.

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The family had lived in a trailer on their property since last summer, while their home was under construction, Collingwood said, and had moved in just before Christmas.

“For something to happen like that,” he said, shaking his head. “They’ve got to do a lot of investigating because things like that just don’t happen.”

The five bodies were taken to the medical examiner’s office in Boston on Wednesday.

Authorities obtained a search warrant Wednesday for the house at 1343 Home Road and searched late into the night, remaining at the scene until about 2 a.m. Thursday, said Jennifer Mieth, a spokeswoman for the Massachusetts Department of Fire Services.

Investigators returned to the house later Thursday.

The joint investigation includes members of the Sheffield fire and police departments, and State Police assigned to the state fire marshal’s office and the Berkshire district attorney’s office, Mieth said.

Members of the State Police Fire and Explosion Investigation Section and Crime Scene Services Section are “gathering and analyzing various types of evidence” under the direction of Harrington’s office, according to Dave Procopio, a State Police spokesman.

Luke Karpinski’s father, Paul, told the Globe Thursday that the family has been given little information about the investigation.

“We’re not being told anything,” he said in a brief telephone interview.

Members of the Wilbur family could not be reached for comment Thursday.

Justine Wilbur worked as a patent attorney at Hoffman Warnick, an intellectual property firm in Albany, N.Y.

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In a statement, the firm said she was “. . . a talented attorney who joined our team in 2017 after having built a reputation both domestically and internationally as a patent expert. Her work was both meaningful and challenging having encompassed topics ranging from cancer treatment and nanotechnology to advanced materials.”

The firm described Wilbur as smart, knowledgeable, dedicated, and hard-working, and as a “devoted mother to her wonderful children, and a true friend to everyone in our firm.”

Before practicing law, Wilbur was a scientist who managed “a drug discovery resynthesis team” that collaborated with pharmaceutical companies, according to the firm. That team’s focus, according to the firm’s site, was cancer therapeutic drugs.

As a patent attorney, Wilbur assisted with patent prosecution for domestic and international clients. She held a law degree from Suffolk University, a master’s in chemistry from the University of Massachusetts Lowell, and a bachelor’s in chemistry from Boston College, according to the firm’s site.

“We are each devastated by loss and extraordinary sadness, but are comforted and grateful for having shared Justine’s infectious spirit and energy,” the firm’s statement read.

The deaths also left residents shaken in Sheffield’s historic downtown.

“It’s just devastating. You never expect it to happen in a small town like ours where everybody is interconnected and close,” said Heather Barney, who works behind the cash register at Silk’s Variety Store.

“We feel horrible for the kids. You hear stories of people harming children, and it’s disgusting.”

Barney said the tragedy has been the talk of her stunned customers in this community on the Housatonic River.

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The deaths closely followed the news that a 24-year-old Sheffield native, Samya Stumo, had died Sunday in a plane crash in Ethiopia.

In addition, a local teenager was killed in a car crash recently, Barney said.

To help calm her customers, Barney brought her cat, Toby, to work, where he curled up in a small box atop a row of lottery tickets. “People who live up there are freaked out a bit,” Barney said of the area near the burned home. “The quicker they figure it out, the more relaxed people will be.”


Globe correspondent Jeremy Fox contributed to this story. Brian MacQuarrie can be reached at brian.macquarrie
@globe.com. Danny McDonald can be reached at daniel.mcdonald@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @danny_mcdonald.