Published February 27. 2013 1:00PM Updated February 28. 2013 3:21PM
North Stonington — Residents expressed shock and sadness Wednesday after state police released a report saying that Debra Denison, 47, shot and killed her grandsons, 6-month-old Ashton Perry and 2-year-old Alton Perry, and then herself Tuesday evening in a van near Lake of Isles. Tuesday was Alton's second birthday.
The children lived in North Stonington with their parents, Jeremy and Brenda Perry.
Community members have organized a candlelight vigil for the family, to be held at 7 p.m. Friday at the North Stonington recreational facility off Route 2. A fund has been established to benefit the family.
Larry Chappell, pastor of the North Stonington Bible Church, will lead the service, said Thomas Weissmuller, an Old Mystic resident who grew up in North Stonington and knows the Perrys.
Weissmuller described the Perrys as "a very loving family, widely known and highly regarded in the community."
"The whole community is saddened by this terrible tragedy," he said.
The boys' father, Jeremy Perry, had been a student at the martial arts school Weissmuller runs in North Stonington until an injury left him confined to a wheelchair for much of the time, Weissmuller said.
"It's especially tragic in light of the hardships the family has already endured," he said.
First Selectman Nick Mullane said he has run into the Perrys often as they've gone in and out of Town Hall on various errands.
"They're a delightful young couple — always polite, courteous, appreciative and respectful," he said. "They seem like ideal parents to me. No doubt about it."
Mullane said he and others in town are ready to give the Perrys whatever support they may need, but is encouraging people "to stay away as much as possible" from a "very traumatized" family.
"I don't think the family knows what they need right now or how to handle this," he said. "What we're doing as a town is standing by, and if anybody needs or wants anything, we'll take care of it."
Monica Eppinger, who has lived in town for 35 years with her husband, Frank, one of the town's attorneys, said she was horrified when she heard the news Tuesday night.
She said she knows children who have gone to Kidds & Co., the day care center where Denison picked up her grandsons Tuesday afternoon. She called it a "wonderful" place.
"My prayers go out to the family," she said.
Town Clerk Norma Holliday has lived in town her whole life and attended Wheeler High School with Jeremy Perry's mother, Donna Connors. She said she and her husband, Stephen, the town's public works director, often vacation with Jeremy's father and stepmother.
"I know them and I don't even know what to say to them," she said. "What do you say?"
Rich Bauer, assistant fire chief at the North Stonington Volunteer Fire Co., sat Tuesday afternoon in the firehouse's cramped office space with firefighter Mike White. When asked what they thought, they traded silent glances for a minute, unsure.
"It's awful, you know?" Bauer finally said.
Bauer said the young age of the two boys is particularly jarring.
"They haven't even done anything wrong yet," he said. "They didn't even understand. They were just with Grandma."
Maggie Efthimiou, who has owned the Route 2 pizza parlor Green Onion II with her husband for 16 years, said she has a daughter the same age as 23-year-old Brenda Perry, who she said came by every so often to get takeout for her family.
"It makes you cry and it breaks your heart," she said.
Efthimiou and her husband also remember Denison — whom they called "Deb" — coming into their restaurant, recalling her as a pleasant person who was always helping her daughter, son-in-law and grandsons.
"You are in shock when you hear something like that after," Efthimiou said, later adding, "You don't know what's inside."