LITTLE COMPTON, R.I. (WPRI) — When Steven Velozo died on Oct. 2, little about his death was made public.
Police didn’t respond to requests for information at the time. An obituary later said he “passed away unexpectedly.” Town Administrator Antonio Teixeira sent an email to elected officials, saying his death was “under investigation.”
He warned them not to speculate.
“I suggest a great deal of caution as you read or hear from the social circles,” Teixeira wrote in the Oct. 4 email obtained by Target 12.
Nearly five months later, the Massachusetts Chief Medical Examiner’s Office released autopsy details showing the 47-year-old man died from mechanical asphyxia, a technical term meaning some physical force stopped his flow of oxygen.
The manner of death was ruled a homicide.
The newly released information has quietly sent into a scramble many in the town of 3,500 people, as the community has only seen one other homicide since 1999, according to state police data reviewed by Target 12.
But still, nobody is talking publicly about what happened, shrouding Velozo’s death in mystery. And while Teixeira claimed in his October email that preliminary information suggested that “none of our first respond were involve [sic] other than deal [sic] and assist at the scene,” details remain murky.
According to several interviews with people familiar with what happened that night, both current and former first responders – including police, firefighters and EMT workers – were attending the going-away party of Velozo’s mother at her house on Pottersville Road.
At some point during the night of the party, a fight broke out and subsequently Velozo was transported to St. Anne’s Hospital in Fall River where he was pronounced dead.
Rumors have since swirled throughout town about what led up to his death, but so far nobody has stepped forward with any official account.
Target 12 has reached out to multiple people who reportedly attended the party and all either declined to comment or hung up after a reporter identified themselves. One town official said all questions had to go through the police department before hanging up.
A current firefighter, who two people said attended the party, told Target 12 he couldn’t remember if he was there. He referred all questions to the chief.
Police Chief Scott Raynes said Wednesday his department is investigating the death and that he had two uniformed officers respond that night and they acted “admirably.” He said his department had been looking at the death since it happened, but the medical examiner’s determination that it was a homicide sent the probe in a “different direction.”
“Currently, we are not releasing any information regarding the incident, as this is a pending matter and we do not want to jeopardize the investigation,” Raynes said in a statement, asking the public for patience.
“We can say that the Little Compton police officers on scene acted admirably and administered aid to a subject in medical distress prior to the arrival of rescue personnel,” he added. “We would also like to make it clear that at no time was there any danger to the residents of Little Compton and/or the public because of this incident.”
The chief met with the R.I. Attorney General’s Office on Tuesday and a spokesperson for the state’s top prosecutor confirmed they are assisting in the investigation.
The police department has received multiple public records requests for a copy of the incident report from that night, but Raynes said they will not be releasing it because of the pending investigation.
A reporter on Monday visited the home where the October party happened and a person inside didn’t answer the door. Town officials have not responded to multiple requests for comment and Teixeira didn’t immediately respond to phone calls seeking comment on Tuesday.
The lack of information has frustrated those who knew Velozo, including his longtime friend Jim Gabus, who said he helped Velozo set up for the party the day before the night of his death.
He didn’t end up attending the party and now feels like he and the Little Compton community are being left in the dark.
“We’ve had no answers for five months,” Gabus said.
Eli Sherman (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a Target 12 investigative reporter for 12 News. Connect with him on Twitter and on Facebook.
Matt Paddock, Tim White and Steph Machado contributed to this report.