They'd awaken Cynthia Hawke-Renn in the middle of the night. When she went to her family's old house boat to be alone with her thoughts, they'd come pouring out.
She'd write with grief and disbelief that something so horrific, so unimaginable could — no, had — happened to her family: "Again today, I awoke with tears; saying to myself … Did this really happen? Last night I had the repeated nightmare that I actually am Hayley, struggling in flames and smoke. As I open my bedroom door, I wonder which way to turn, do I go to help Michaela or do I go to try to save my mother? With palpitations, I awaken and am left to wonder how does this nightmare EVER end?"
And she'd continue with angry, anguished words for Steven Hayes, the man who so senselessly and sickeningly terrorized her sister and nieces: "I don't have to ask why you did this. I know you were not ambitious enough in life to go after a LEGAL dream of prosperity. You felt it was your RIGHT in life to TAKE what others had — Time after Time, No Matter WHO or WHAT it HURT. You say everything went wrong or bad. It didn't go wrong, YOU made it go wrong."
Hawke-Renn told me the story of her writings in a phone conversation we had this week from her home in North Carolina. For years, she said, she added to the pages. She tucked them in the front of her journal. It was a way to try to come to terms, if there is such a thing, with what happened that July day. In phone conversations with her sister just hours before the deadline home invasion, Hawke-Petit had described the day as perfect.
As the trial of Steven Hayes grew closer, Hawke-Renn turned to the pages again, this time to begin molding them into an victim impact statement for Hayes' sentencing Thursday.
Even with all the words she had written, she said it was surprisingly easy to distill the pages of grief and anger into a terse courtroom statement. In all the years since her family's deaths, she always returned to the same thoughts: the pain, the loss and senselessness of it all: "I use to have trust and faith in humanity and you have taken that as well. I use to feel safe in my bed at night as did my children and YOU have destroyed that also."
Hawke-Renn won't be in the New Haven courtroom when Judge Jon Blue formally sentences Hayes to death by lethal injection. Neither will her parents, who spent Thanksgiving at her home.
Instead, she said, a video of her reading the statement will be played. Dr. William Petit Jr., the lone survivor of the deadly home invasion, also is expected to speak.
Hawke-Renn said she opted to allow the video to speak for her partly because of financial issues; while Hayes has the state's coffers at his disposal, she said, the family doesn't and the travel and expenses to attend the two-month trial have eaten into the family's small budget.
But there is another reason why neither she nor her parents will be in court. For months, she said, they watched an emotionless Hayes barely move, let alone react to the gruesome details of the horror he inflicted on an innocent family in their own home.
What good, then, she asked, would it do to stand before him, trying to express the damage he'd done, the promise he'd robbed so many of when he killed her sister and nieces?
Instead, Hawke-Renn said, she hopes her words will have more of an impact on the public, so that people will understand how deep the pain goes, how lasting the loss.
She struggled with the last paragraph. Even when we talked about her statement days before a jury sentenced Hayes to death last month, Hawke-Renn wondered if she should change it.
But in the end, she said she decided to leave it as she had originally written: "If Steven Hayes is held in prison for the rest of his life, he will just have more of the same punishment that he been accustomed to before committing these crimes. If he is given lethal injection, he will be given what all Americans are guaranteed in life — A Peaceful death, one without struggle for breath, one without anxiety, and one without pain.
"I would have given anything for my loved ones to have died in this same peaceful manner."
Helen Ubiñas' column appears on Thursdays and Sundays. Read her blog, Notes From Hel, at courant.com/helen and follow her on Twitter.