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Mental Patient Stabs Girl to Death at Street Fair

July 29, 1989

MIDDLETOWN, Conn. (AP) _ As thousands of people milled through a sun-splashed street fair, a mental patient who had walked away from a hosptial attacked a 9-year-old girl and stabbed her to death in front of her mother.

Jessica Short was pronounced dead about a half hour after the 2:20 p.m. attack Friday, a hospital spokesman said.

″A young life was wasted and I want to know why,″ Mayor Sebastian J. Garafalo said at a news conference. ″I keep asking, ‘Why?’ It’s so senseless.″

David Peterson, 37, a patient at Connecticut Valley Hospital, was charged with murder in what police Chief George R. Aylward called a ″random act of violence.″

Peterson had been ordered confined at the hospital for 15 years in May 1988 after being found innocent by reason of insanity on assault and burglary charges, said Martha Lewis, executive director of the state Psychiatric Security Review Board, which oversees his confinement.

Aylward said he had been told by the hospital that Peterson was free on an eight-hour pass Friday. Hospital Superintendent Carl Cappello, however, denied that Peterson had been given a pass, and said he simply walked off the grounds without permission.

″Peterson had been granted privileges to go to the library and stay in the building,″ Cappello said. ″He went AWOL.″

″We don’t have a fence around the hospital,″ Cappello said. ″It’s not a correctional facility. ... He was obviously able to leave the grounds.″

Lewis was unsure of the exact nature of Peterson’s mental illness.

The stabbing took place on the city’s Main Street, which was closed to traffic.

Peterson grabbed Short from behind after she walked out of an F.W. Woolworth Co. store and was apparently walking toward her mother. He flailed at her head and chest with a large, black-handled hunting knife, witnesses said, until two police officers and a passerby pulled him off the girl.

″Nobody was helping her,″ said a woman who would not give her name. ″People were screaming and running. He cut her on the arm and then just stood there and started stabbing her in the chest.″

Lewis said Peterson was allowed to leave the hospital to have Christmas dinner with his family last year, but she said that was the only time the review board has allowed him to leave the hospital grounds.

″It definitely calls for a review to look into what happened,″ she said.