HAVERHILL — Mary Jane Praiano said every visit to Winnekenni Park brings back memories of a tragedy that shocked the city almost 20 years ago.
Yesterday, Praiano and her brother, the Rev. Michael Chambers, pastor of the Church of the Nazarene at 957 Kenoza St., were parked near the public tennis courts at Winnekenni Park having coffee. Emergency vehicles sped by, heading to Winnekenni Castle.
The bodies of Kristin Broderick, 37, of Texas, and Martha McDermott, 36, of New Hampshire, were discovered near the castle around 1 p.m. When Praiano learned of it she felt sick to her stomach.
"We both walk the trails, and every time I come here I think of the death of P.J. Davis, which was a very sad and tragic thing," Praiano said.
She was referring to 13-year-old Phillip "P.J." Davis, whose body was found in the woods near the castle in July 1992. The boy's killer — Irwin "Buddy" Hartford — was convicted of bludgeoning the child with a heavy rock and sexually abusing him. Hartford is serving a life sentence.
"You would not think that a place of such beauty would be a place of such tragedy," Chambers said about yesterday's discovery of the two bodies.
Praiano wondered if it would haunt her future visits to the park as well.
"I feel for their families and we need to keep them all in our prayers," she said about the people discovered yesterday.
Winnekenni Park has been the scene of other deaths:
On June 20, 2008, a 46-year-old Methuen man who was hiking with his wife in Winnekenni Park was struck by lightning and died. His wife also was hit but survived, police said. The couple had hiked about two miles along Kenoza Lake inside the park when the strike occurred about 2:35 p.m., during a thunderstorm.
On April 2, 2009, the body of a man who appeared to be in his 40s or 50s was discovered about 200 yards down a trail that branches off from a parking area at the base of the hill upon which the castle sits. Police did not believe foul play was involved.
Near the entrance to the parking area is a dirt road that leads up to the castle grounds. The city-owned park, off Route 110 and near Kenoza Lake, has hundreds of wooded acres with a network of hiking trails.
On Aug. 2, 2010, a man who had barricaded himself in a bar in Lawrence the previous month and threatened to shoot himself with a handgun was found hanging from a tree in Winnekenni Park, an apparent suicide. Police said the body of Michael Kirlis, 40, of 134 Main St., Plaistow, was found by a man who was walking with his two young children along a trail that runs through a wooded area between the Winnekenni Basin and Kenoza Lake. It is a short distance from the park's public tennis courts and an outdoor children's playground set that is popular with local families.
Shalae Kuffel of Haverhill said she walks her dog Trixy, a 7-year-old white jindo, at Winnekenni Park "almost every day."
"I'm so glad I didn't bring the dog earlier today," she said after finding out why a police cruiser was blocking the road up to the castle yesterday.
Meg Shelton, also of Haverhill, had just completed what she called an "uneventful walk" around the park yesterday afternoon when she learned what had happened near the castle.
She called the deaths "disheartening and upsetting."
As the news spread that two bodies had been found near the castle, a small crowd of 20 or so people, mostly teenagers, gathered near a small parking lot at the bottom of the hill.
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