WOONSOCKET, R.I. (WPRI) — Fredy Herrera knew something was wrong when he hadn’t seen his elderly neighbors over the past couple of weeks.
“It made me worry,” said Herrera, who lives on Marian Lane in Woonsocket. “I’m really close to them.”
Herrera said he called them nearly a dozen times to check in on them, but never received a response.
It wasn’t until he went next door to investigate and noticed a foul odor coming from the home that he decided to call police.
Investigators confirmed Herrera’s worst fears Monday evening, when two bodies were found “severely decomposed” inside the residence.
“It’s an awful feeling,” Herrera said. “I would wish that on anybody … it’s really sad.”
Woonsocket Police Chief Thomas Oates confirmed the home belongs to former Woonsocket Mayor Susan Menard, but only identified the decedents as an “elderly male and female.”
Oates said while the medical examiner will confirm their identities, investigators strongly suspect the woman is Menard.
Herrera said Menard lived with her boyfriend, both of whom gave them a warm welcome when his family moved to the neighborhood eight years ago.
“It’s really hard to describe what goes through your mind when you hear news like that,” Herrera said. “I’m sad to see them gone, especially with the way they went, but I know they are resting now … I’m always going to love them.”
Herrera said his children were especially close with the elderly couple, and he hasn’t had the heart to tell them that they’re gone.
No foul play is suspected, though the investigation into their deaths is ongoing. Oates said mail was stacked up inside the mailbox and nothing inside the home appeared to be in disarray.
Mernard was not only the city’s first female mayor, she was also its longest serving mayor, holding office from 1995 until 2009. Her daughter, 31-year-old Carrie Pilavin, died unexpectedly back in April 2009, according to her obituary.
Oates said the medical examiner plans to identify the decedents sometime Wednesday.
Deb Burton, executive director of RI Elder Info, tells 12 News that it’s critical that people check in continuously on their elderly loved ones and neighbors to prevent tragedies like this from happening.
“I think what a lot of people don’t realize is, one-third of Rhode Islanders above the age of 65 live alone,” Burton said. “This is a fear that many of them have.”
Burton suggested people make touching base with the seniors in their lives part of their regular routine. If they don’t respond, those concerned can request police conduct a welfare check.
She also said there are a number of resources available at both the state and local levels to help seniors stay connected within their communities.
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