Milford's motto is the small city with a big heart, and recently that heart has been tested again and again.
It all began on April 25 when Christopher Plaskson, 16, allegedly stabbed to death Jonathan Law Junior Class and prom planner President Maren Sanchez, 16, in a secluded hallway at the school.
Reports are Plaskon allegedly stabbed Sanchez because she rejected his last minute offer to attend the prom with him. Sanchez, who spent months planning the junior class prom, was killed on the very day it was supposed to happen.
Just as the small tight-knit city of about 52,000 residents was beginning to heal from the trauma inflicted during the Sanchez tragedy, the city erupted in violence again this week.
On early Tuesday, three people were injured in a stabbing incident on Lafayette Street. Then the very next day, there was a murder suicide on Midway Avenue where Michael Savignanao, 56, of Shelton, was gunned down and the suspected shooter, Vincent Edwards, 46, took his own life, but not before he opened fire on Milford police officers from the roof of his house. Fortunately, no police officer was hurt.
The violence is unprecedented for the sleepy shoreline community, which averages about one homicide every few years. Police typically respond to domestics, larcenies and disorderly conducts.
And it’s clear the community has been shaken. One Milford Patch reader wrote, “Unfortunately, now time to leave this city, for my family's protection.”
That is just one comment, but several residents have noted they are quite aware of the three recent violent acts committed on the normally sleepy beach front community.
In the days and weeks that followed, the Milford community was in shock and tried to make sense of the senseless tragedy.
“We’re a family, our heart is broken,” said Fran Thompson, who is Jonathan Law’s principal. Thompson’s comments were made shortly after Sanchez’s death.
But in the days and weeks that followed the tragedy, the Milford community began to come together. There was a citywide vigil in which more than 2,000 people attended to celebrate Maren’s life.
Then more than 1,000 people attended Sanchez’s wake as the community continued to heal and city businesses lined up to offer assistance to Jonathan Law students.
“I continue to be amazed at the resiliency of our kids as they work through this horrible experience,” Thompson said about a week after Sanchez’s death.
“The outpouring of community support has been incredible – I keep hearing, “Stay strong.” and that is exactly what the generosity and love of everyone is allowing us to do. Of course, there will be great challenges that lie ahead and the many stages of grief that must come and will come,” Thompson said in the days following the tragedy. “We will get through them as a community the same way we made it through this week.”
It was Thompson who coined the phrase “Milford Strong,” which became apart of the regular vocabulary for city residents.
The lasting effects of the Sanchez tragedy could still be seen on many people. About a month after Maren was killed, Superintendent of Schools Elizabeth Feser broke down several times recounting the strength of the Milford community.
Feser said on April 25 “our hearts were broken.”
“We continue to grieve as a community, we grow stronger as a community,” Feser said.
She added that the outpouring of support has been immense.
Feser went on to list numerous groups, agencies and businesses that have rallied around the Milford community to help it heal.
As Feser began to thank all the parents and students for their prayers and specifically the Law students, staff and parents she became emotional.
“I thank them for their courage,” Feser said, while becoming choked up. “There is no road map for this.”
She thanked everyone for the “extraordinary care” shown to the Law and Sanchez family.
“It’s humbling and it’s made the Milford community even stronger,” Feser said. “Thank-you, we’ve got a long way to go. We have enormous strength.”
Milford Mayor Benjamin G. Blake described Sanchez as someone who had a deep devotion and passion for life.
“Maren loved everyone and everyone loved her,” Blake said. “We cannot undo what happened.”
Blake said it’s appropriate to mourn Sanchez’s death but everyone must be unified in their resolve.
“We will get through this together,” Blake said.
While the city’s resolve has been tested, there is no doubt from Milford’s leaders that the only way to overcome the recent spate of tragedy is by coming together.