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By Caroline Louise Cole and Kathleen Burge, Globe Correspondent, Staff
April 23, 2005
NEWBURYPORT – The teenage daughter, awakened in the early-morning darkness by the terrible sound of her mother’s screams, ran downstairs to see her bleeding from a shoulder and struggling to hold down the girl’s older brother, the police report said.
”Your brother is going insane,” Nickoletta Staszewski yelled to her daughter, telling her to flee the house and call 911, according to the report. Police arrived at the Brentwood, N.H. house at about 5 a.m. Thursday to find the 47-year-old teacher lying dead in a pool of blood on the dining room floor. Her son, Richard, 21, was wandering the neighborhood naked, blood dripping from his arms.
Yesterday, as he was arraigned on a murder charge, students and friends seemed shaken by the death of the popular teacher with more than 20 years’ tenure, who felt called to her profession by a brother born with Down syndrome. Nickoletta Staszewski was inspired by her brother, Jimmy, who died a decade ago, to become a special needs teacher, said her sister, Mary Fordham.
Richard Staszewski first told police on Thursday that he had killed his mother after an argument. She told him he needed to get a job and to ”stop being a leech,” he reportedly told police.
But the son later changed his story, authorities said, telling them he first tried to kill himself and then stabbed his mother without provocation. Richard Staszewski’s younger sister, Calandra, told police that he had been taking antidepressants.
Nickoletta Staszewski died of a stab wound to the neck, according to the autopsy report.
She was a sixth-grade math teacher at Rupert A. Nock Middle School in Newburyport, in the same district from which both she and her son had graduated. Friends and colleagues remembered the woman they called Nicki as an energetic powerhouse, standing not much more than 5 feet tall, who tirelessly volunteered for student trips and committees.
Staszewski had planned to chaperone the sixth-graders Monday as they made their annual visit to Camp Kiev in Maine. Yesterday, school officials said the trip would be postponed.
”She was going to jump on a bus and go up with her students,” said Mayor Mary Anne Clancy, a Newburyport School Committee member who had known Staszewski since they attended high school together.
News of Staszewski’s death came as many students and teachers in Newburyport were away during school vacation week. As news of the tragedy spread, school officials planned a memorial service in Staszewski’s honor, to be held at 5 p.m. tomorrow for teachers, students, and parents.
The middle school will also open two hours late on Monday, so that teachers can meet with counselors and discuss how to help children confront the tragedy. Grief counselors will also be available during the week.
”Everybody loved Nicki: her students, the other teachers, people around town who knew her,” said Fordham, who spent an hour taking digital photos of flowers, candles, and mementos people had left behind at the school.
”We knew Rick was having problems but not to this extent,” she said. ”I don’t think I will every wake up from this nightmare. I can’t handle it.”
Yesterday, Richard Staszewski was arraigned on a charge of second-degree murder in Exeter (N.H.) District Court and held without bail.
He appeared for his brief court appearance wearing an orange jumpsuit, his right eye swollen shut, his face badly bruised, and his hands wrapped in gauze.
He had been treated Thursday at Exeter Hospital’s emergency room for cuts across his hands and fingers so deep that they sliced into the tendons, according to a police report. Staszewski also had shallower cuts on his thighs and chest.
Police said the night Calandra Staszewski heard her mother screaming, she grabbed a phone and ran from the house into the garage at her mother’s urging. She locked herself inside a car and called police.
When a Brentwood police officer arrived, he saw Richard Staszewski walking down the street naked, yelling, ”Just shoot me,” according to a police report. Staszewski told the officers that he had stabbed his mother and that she was dead, the report said.
Police later found Nickoletta Staszewski’s body, a kitchen knife nearby.
The son first told police that he had spent Wednesday driving around with friends, smoking marijuana, and returned home early Thursday morning. His mother was watching television, he said, and an argument broke out. When she pushed him, he told police, he grabbed a knife and stabbed her in the throat.
But later he told police that he wanted to correct his story. When he returned home at about 4 a.m. Thursday, he said, he tried unsuccessfully to kill himself with a knife. When he went downstairs to get a larger knife from the kitchen, he saw his mother lying on the couch, watching television, he said.
When his mother asked him what he was doing, he did not answer but stabbed her in the throat, he told police.
One of Richard’s friends, Jordan Sandman, who also once attended Nock Middle School and knew the victim, was drawn to the school’s makeshift memorial for the teacher. Like many in town, Sandman said he was startled by his friend’s arrest.
”He didn’t seem like the type of person who would want to hurt anyone,” Sandman said. ”I can’t imagine that he could do this.”
John Ellement of the Globe staff contributed to this report. Kathleen Burge can be reached at email@example.com.