Long Island neighbors bewildered at death of family

A wreath of bright flowers decorates the front door of the tidy white-brick house on First Street, across from the fairways of the Cherry Valley Club.

Occasionally, someone comes by to drop off a bouquet, a note of condolence attached.

The inhabitants of the house, William and Betty Parente, and their 11-year-old daughter, Catherine, won't be coming home.

The three, along with Stephanie Parente, 19, the elder daughter, were found dead Monday at a hotel in Towson.

"I've been sick about it all day today," Jerrie Trapani said Tuesday after dropping off a bouquet at the family's door. "We will miss you Stef," the note accompanying it said. There were four little X's drawn at the bottom. Trapani's son Brian, 20, went to the Garden City High School prom two years ago with Stephanie Parente, a sophomore at Loyola College in Maryland. The kids grew up together, Trapani said.

On Monday, at the request of the Baltimore County police, officers from the Garden City Police Department came to the house, where the Parentes had lived for 12 years, to see whether it too was a crime scene, "to check that there were no other victims and to see if there were any next of kin," said Lt. Vincent Thorn.

Baltimore County police are investigating the deaths as a murder-suicide.

The house is immaculately kept, its lawn mowed, its flower beds neat, its hedges clipped. There is a free-standing basketball hoop in the driveway, next to a silver Volvo S40 with a Loyola College sticker in the rear window. An identical sticker decorated the family's other car, a Mercedes-Benz sport utility vehicle that they used to travel the 200 miles to Towson.

Next door, Cristina Salata sat in her car in the driveway after stopping by to see her parents, close friends of the Parentes. Salata, whose father, a real estate broker, sold the family their house, described them as "the loveliest people."

"It's not as though you could say there was anything weird with them," said Salata, whose husband, Pete, graduated from Loyola in 2000.

The Parentes had moved out to Garden City from Brooklyn, Salata said, and "had a lot of close friends in town." She described the two girls as "beautiful, beautiful."

Salata's father, Robert J. Krener, 64, came outside holding the Parentes' last Christmas card: a picture of the two girls smiling and wearing red Santa Claus caps.

"The whole thing is beyond a tragedy," Krener said. "Betty had such a wonderful sense of humor," he said, recalling she would always bake pies - apple or pumpkin - at Thanksgiving and give one to the Kreners.

"She just had a joy about her, a true inner spirituality," he said.

The Parentes were active members of St. Joseph Roman Catholic Church in Garden City, where Betty Parente distributed Communion. The Rev. Joseph M. Schlafer said he will meet with parents Wednesday night to help guide them on explaining the tragedy to their children.

William Parente was an tax and estate attorney who had an office in midtown Manhattan, where no one answered the phone Tuesday.

Betty Parente was involved in the Girl Scouts and Garden City chapters of several charity organizations, including a United Cerebral Palsy auxiliary and the Children's Medical Fund. She was a member of the Garden City Welcome Club.

"She was a wonderful person and worked very hard for the charity," said Clare Barbadillo of Children's Medical Fund.

Krener, who graduated from Mount St. Mary's College in 1967, said Betty Parente was a cancer survivor and that her newfound vigor was a testament to her happiness at having overcome the disease.

William Parente, he said, would "leave early and come home late" on workdays, but could often be seen on weekends heading off to "get bagels for the girls."

"He'd always wave as he drove by," Krener said. "They used to come over for dinner. There was never a cross word between them. If there was something wrong, we'd have picked it up. Something's missing here."

Betty Parente's friend Marianne Quinn, 53, told Newsday that William Parente had been depressed about the death of his mother. The first anniversary of the death was about a week ago.

A local newspaper published a photograph of Betty Parente and her two daughters at a United Cerebral Palsy benefit luncheon about a year ago. Catherine Parente was among the children who read Mother's Day tribute poetry at the event, the newspaper noted.

Catherine was "was a wonderful, talented and sweet child who was treasured by teachers and staff members," according to a statement from the school district in Garden City.

The Parentes liked to travel. At Christmas, Krener recalled, the family went to Florida and stayed at the Fountainebleau hotel in Miami Beach. The family also had a condo on the beach in Westhampton, N.Y., according to property records.

A few months ago, William and Betty Parente saw South Pacific in Manhattan. "They were so excited to go to that," Krener said.

As the afternoon wore on, visitors came and went on the quiet block.

Another bouquet arrived. "Betty, thank you for always making me smile," said the note signed by Cathy and Scott. "You all will be missed. You will always be remembered in our hearts."

Nick Madigan reported from Garden City. Gus G. Sentementes and Baltimore Sun reporter Julie Bykowicz reported from Baltimore. The Associated Press contributed to this article.

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