A defrocked Roman Catholic priest implicated himself in the 1972 slaying of a Massachusetts altar boy before dying at a hospital last week — saying he gave the boy a “good shove” before he was discovered dead in a river, a prosecutor said.
Richard R. Lavigne, long considered the only suspect in the murder of 13-year-old Danny Croteau, told a Massachusetts State Police trooper during a series of recent interviews that he was the last person to see the Springfield boy alive — when he brought him to the bank of the Chicopee River.
In a press conference Monday, Hampden District Attorney Anthony Gulluni played snippets of the interviews, where Lavigne admitted that he assaulted the boy on the riverbank on April 14, 1972.
The priest later returned and found Danny floating face-down in the water, but didn’t try to save him or notify his parents or cops, the prosecutor said.
Lavigne told state police he gave the teen a “good shove” along the banks of the river but his voice trailed off when asked why, the Boston Globe reported.
“I just remember being heartbroken when I saw his body … knowing I was responsible for giving him a good shove, you know?” Lavigne said.
Gulluni said he now considered the 49-year-old cold-case slaying to be closed, although the disgraced priest did not admit to killing his former altar boy.
Lavigne died Friday at age 80, the same day Gulluni said his office was preparing to prosecute him for the teen’s slaying.
The priest — who pleaded guilty in 1992 to sexually abusing children and was defrocked in 2003 — was a friend of the Croteau family and was assigned to Saint Mary’s Parish in Springfield at the time, Gulluni said.
“Danny’s parents, Carl and Bernice, told reporters that they just wanted answers,” the prosecutor said in a statement announcing the now-closed murder probe.
“Based on the accumulation of the historical evidence gained in the last year, and the admissions of Richard Lavigne, I believe we now have those answers.”
Lavigne was removed from active ministry in 1991 amid charges that he sexually abused children, the Globe reported. He pleaded guilty a year later and was sentenced to 10 years of probation and ordered to undergo sex-offender counseling, according to the Associated Press.
The Springfield Diocese paid 17 of Lavigne’s victims $1.4 million in 1994 and an additional $7.7 million settlement to 46 victims in 2004, the Globe reported.
An attorney for Danny’s late parents who has represented more than 25 of Lavigne’s accusers said law enforcement officials estimate the disgraced priest molested more than 250 people between the 1960s and 1990s.
“There’s a great injustice here,” attorney John Stobierski told the Globe. “This helps, but it has not told us why it happened and how the level of power kept it silent.”
Lavigne died at a hospital in Greenfield, according to state records cited by the newspaper. The cause of death was acute hypoxic respiratory failure with COVID-19 pneumonia as an underlying cause.
William D. Byrne, bishop of the Springfield Diocese, said news of Lavigne’s looming arrest served as “sad closure” to the decades-long unsolved case.
“I was angered and sickened to hear Lavigne’s unapologetic admissions in the heinous murder of this innocent child,” Byrne told the Globe.