Hampden District Attorney Anthony Gulluni announced that the investigation into the murder of Danny Croteau has been officially closed, citing new evidence against Richard Lavigne who died Friday in a hospital facility.
Danny was found dead on April 15, 1972, in the Connecticut River in Chicopee. This past Friday, detectives were authorized by Gulluni to present the case against Lavigne to obtain an arrest warrant for Danny’s murder.
“Danny’s parents, Carl and Bernice, told reporters that they just wanted answers. Based on the accumulation of historical evidence, the evidence gained in the last year, and the admissions of Richard Lavigne, I believe we now have those answers,” Gulluni said.
Lavigne met the Croteau family while he was a Roman Catholic priest assigned to the Croteau family’s parish, St. Catherine of Sienna in Springfield.
Danny and his brothers had served as altar boys at St. Catherine’s. Lavigne also socialized with the Croteau family, and took some of the Croteau boys — including Danny — on outings without their parents.
After Danny’s murder, Lavigne became a person of interest because of the “inconsistent and unusual statements he had made” after the murder, the DA’s Office said.
During recent interviews with investigators, Lavigne refused to admit he killed Danny and “was cagey and evasive, continuing his long-running attempts to mislead and distract investigators.”
However, he made several statements to indicate he was the last person to see Danny alive, that he brought him to the riverbank on April 14, 1972, and that he physically assaulted him there. After leaving Danny there and returning a short time later, Lavigne admitted he saw Danny floating face down in the river.
Boston attorney Mitchell Garabedian said he has represented clergy sexual abuse survivors of the former Springfield priest. On Monday, Garabedian received calls from many clergy sex abuse survivors, “expressing disappointment that Richard Lavigne will not be prosecuted.”
“Many survivors feel cheated, and their hearts go out to the family of Danny Croteau,” Garabedian said. “Once again, the question arises of what the Diocese of Springfield knew of Fr. Lavigne and his wholesale sexual abuse of innocent children.”
He called on the DA’s Office to investigate the “extent to which the Diocese of Springfield helped former Catholic priest Richard Lavigne cover up the murder of Danny Croteau.”
Diocese of Springfield Bishop William Byrne said the DA announcement “brings sad closure to a tragic event which I know has hung over our faith community for decades.”
“I was angered and sickened to hear Lavigne’s unapologetic admissions in the heinous murder of this innocent child,” the bishop said.
“It is also another reminder of our past failures as a Church and a diocese to protect children and young adults from such terrible predators in our midst,” he added. “Although we have made great strides in improving our child protection efforts, that is little consolation to the victims of Richard Lavigne and the numerous other sexual predator clergy who preyed upon our youth.”