Church raising funds, envisions billboard asking for more information in 2011 slaying

Norwich - Friday will mark the one-year anniversary of the grim day when Norwich police were called to the Mohegan Commons Apartments at 1:42 a.m. to find 26-year-old Jaclyn Wirth dead from a gunshot wound, with her two young children in the apartment.

Norwich police are "still working on the case every day," police Lt. Mark Rankowicz said, but they still could use help from the public and any possible witnesses.

"Every day, we're following up on things and checking names," Rankowicz said. "There's always something going on. We just need people to start talking about it. That's what we need."

That night, police were looking for a heavyset black male wearing a dark hooded sweatshirt seen in the area about the time of the shooting.

Wirth's aunt, Peggy Wirth Lufkin, is raising the murdered woman's two young boys, now ages 3 and 8 and living in Jewett City. The family's church, Peniel Church in Norwich, has decided to help Wirth and Norwich police with their investigation by raising money to pay for a billboard that will implore anyone with information about the case to contact Norwich police.

Mohegan Commons will hold a candlelight vigil and wreath-lighting ceremony at 5 p.m. Friday to mark the anniversary. The two Wirth boys will light the wreath, Wirth Lufkin said.

A second fundraiser for the billboard and for the Wirth children will be held at 7 p.m. next Wednesday at High Noon Saloon, at 297 W. Main St.

An account to accept donations for the children is at People's United Bank under the name "Jaclyn Wirth Memorial Fund."

"It's been a little stressful, but we're hanging tough," Wirth Lufkin said. "They're doing the best they can under the circumstances. The oldest one is the one who knows more."

She said the older boy still worries about the family's safety and whether someone "will come after us."

The billboard will have a photo of the two young boys with the message, "Help us find out what happened to our mom," church spokeswoman Celeste Warner said. The sign will give the Norwich police number, (860) 886-5561, for people to call with information about Wirth's murder. No reward is being offered at this time.

Peniel Church at 134 Boswell Ave. will hold a fundraiser dinner from 1 to 3 p.m. Sunday to raise money for the billboard. Dinner tickets are $7, with meat patties sold a-la-carte for $1 each. Punch and coffee is included with the meal. For tickets or more information, call (860) 823-8240.

Editor's note: This version corrects an earlier version.

The dinner is sponsored by the church and the Wirth family with "full support" from Norwich police, Rankowicz said.

Norwich police said a similar billboard was created in the aftermath of the 2004 murder of Eugene Mallove, who was found beaten to death at his childhood home. The case eventually was turned over to the region's Cold Case investigation team, and three people were charged with the murder.

Chad Schaffer pleaded guilty to first-degree manslaughter in the midst of his trial last spring, and trials are pending for two others charged in connection with the Mallove murder.

c.bessette@theday.com

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