Chief Craig Lundgren of the Orange Police Department stopped the Harvest Parade in front of the home of Tom Harty and Joanna Fisher and placed flowers on the front steps as a gesture from the community. (Photo by Jessica Gale-Tanner)members of the Orange Fire Department also place flowers on the couple's doorstep. (Photo by TaraVocino)

Residents, neighbors bear the rain to remember Harty

ORANGE — About 100 residents and neighbors joined in solidarity to remember homicide victim Thomas Harty, 95, and his wife, Joanna Fisher, 77, during a rain-soaked parade on Sunday afternoon, just hours before the suspects wanted in the crime were captured.

Harty died and Fisher remains hospitalized after a home invasion October 5 at 581 East River St.

The Northwestern District Attorney’s Office had released the names of suspects wanted in connection with the homicide, Sunday night. The Rockbridge Sheriff’s Department in Virginia is holding Joshua A. Hart, 23, of Chestnut Hill Road, Athol, and Brittany E. Smith, 27, of Chase Road, Athol, without bail, according to spokeswoman for the Northwestern District Attorney’s Office, Mary Carey.

The Massachusetts State Police have arrest warrants for Hart and Smith charging them with murder, attempted murder, home invasion, armed robbery, larceny, and conspiracy, according to Carey.

The victims’ stolen car, a gray/silver 2003 Toyota Corolla station wagon, has been found in Virginia, Carey said.

Police Chief Craig Lundgren led the Celebrate the Harvest parade on its 25th anniversary, placing flowers on the doorstep of the victims’ home, symbolizing a gesture from the community-at-large. Three members of the Fire Department later followed suit.

Marching bands, local businesses, floats, and emergency personnel from surrounding towns followed.

Harty/Fisher family members declined to comment on their doorstep immediately after the parade ended.

Jeanette McIntosh, of Orange, said the police and fire department’s action was a fitting tribute to ‘a community service person.’

Fisher is well known in the community for having served on the School Committee and working as a paraprofessional.

Fisher’s son Larry, who was present at the gathering, previously served as a selectman and State Trooper.

Joanna Fisher reportedly attends United Methodist Church, and Harty allegedly attended Community Church of North Orange and Tully.

Neighbor Shelly DeGara, who lives a few houses down at 513 East River St., said she is scared after learning the suspects are Athol residents.

“Wow, no, I have not heard that at all, but seriously,” DeGara said. “This is so scary. I hope Joanna isn’t going back to her house after she gets out of the hospital.”

Residents were praising police on their Facebook page throughout the night after they posted a link from WCVB, indicating the apprehension.

“Commendable job and much appreciation to all agencies working a very complex investigation,” they wrote. “Fabulous job, now everyone can sleep. Thank you, Orange Police Department.”

McIntosh said Harty was an outdoorsy person. “He led tours to the Grand Canyon and Mt. Monadock in Richmond, N.H.

Thomas Harty, the grandson, was the last family member at the East River Street home, McIntosh said. Police determined the timeline of when he was there and when the homicide took place.

Fisher’s home health aide reportedly found Harty and dialed 911.

Athol resident Tracy Fisher, who was watching the parade, lives across the street from Tom Jr., Harty’s son.

Fisher said Harty would have given one the shirt off his back.

“He was the sweetest man,” Fisher said. “He always had a smile on his face.”

She joked Harty was in better shape than she is.

“He was an avid hiker,” Fisher said. “He hiked the Grand Canyon every year.”

Fisher said Joanna Fisher always makes cookies and helps anyone, no matter how far away they are.

Fisher said the family needs justice.

“I hope they find who did it soon so this person isn’t running around our community,” Fisher said before the suspects were apprehended.

Adam Dodd, of Hubbardston, said it is admirable how the community comes together, especially in the rain.

“The fact that the community comes together to pay their respects sets a good example for this community,” Dodd said. “It makes the community stronger when it comes to moral ethics.”

Dodd said the tribute sends a big message that everyone is a community. “I praise everyone for coming out in the pouring rain today,” Dodd said.

Orange Business Association Treasurer Rick Kwiatkowski said the association is supportive of the tribute.

“Given the circumstances, we’re happy that police and fire made the wise decision to honor the family this way,” Kwiatkowski said.

Jim McIntosh, of Orange, said the incident is affecting the town as a whole. “They affected a lot of lives,” Jim McIntosh said.

Kevin McIntosh, of Orange, said the tribute was the perfect thing to do. He is not surprised at the tribute or the turnout in the rain. He said Harty was well known in the community.

Jim McIntosh said Sunday afternoon he heard the victims’ stolen car was found in Virginia.

“Who could have not known Thomas?,” Kevin McIntosh asked. “He was a Scout leader and in the military. He was friendly. He’d always stop to talk to you.”

And he knows Fisher through the schools. “She is friendly,” Kevin McIntosh said. “She always goes out of her way to help you. Thank God she’s still alive.”

He questioned why anyone would want to take their lives.

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Athol Daily News

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225 Exchange Street
Athol, MA 01331
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