Priest dies same day he was formally charged in decades-old cold case murder of teen

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SPRINGFIELD, Mass. (NewsNation Now) — Richard Lavigne was a former Catholic priest and child molester who died the same day he was about to be formally charged in the death of a 13-year-old boy. Police now say that 13-year-old was not Lavigne’s only victim.

After nearly 50 years, answers have been revealed in the murder of 13-year-old Danny Croteau.

Investigators shared audio of the alleged killers confession.

“Why did you hit him when he was down by the river bank?” asked an investigator.

“I don’t remember hitting him down by the riverbank, but I gave him a good shove,” responded Lavigne.

Richard Lavigne

Richard Lavigne died of COVID-19 Friday. The same day investigators in Springfield, Massachusetts were set to charge the former catholic priest with murder in the death of Croteau in 1972.

The seventh grader’s body found face down in the Chicopee River nearly 50 years ago. Detectives worked for decades to finally have the evidence they needed to close this case.

“He made several statements to indicate that he was the last person to see Danny Croteau alive, that he brought him to the riverbank April 14, 1972, that he physically assaulted him there, that he saw him floating in the river facedown, and that he neither tried to rescue him or call his parents…or police on his condition,” said Hampden District Attorney Anthony Gulluni.

Police found Danny’s remains the following day on April 15, 1972.

An autopsy at the time reported the cause of death to be “multiple blunt injuries of the head with fractures of the skull.”

Danny Croteau

Danny was the youngest of five and had served as an altar boy. Lavigne was a friend to the Croteau family often taking Danny and his brothers, without their parents, for road trips and sleepovers.

Danny’s older brother says he remembers Danny would sometimes spend time with Lavigne alone. He’d return from weekend trips sick to his stomach from drinking alcohol.

Lavigne even presided over Danny’s funeral mass.

Twenty years after Danny’s death, Lavigne was convicted of indecent assault and battery on a person under the age of fourteen. The victims, according to indictments, were altar boys and sons of parishioners like Danny.

Bishop William Byrne of the diocese of Springfield released a statement condemning Lavigne’s actions and mentioning the progress made over the last several decades.

“Today’s news that Hampden District Attorney Anthony Gulluni was prepared to charge Richard Lavigne in the murder of Danny Croteau in 1972 brings sad closure to a tragic event which I know has hung over our faith community for decades. I was angered and sickened to hear Lavigne’s unapologetic admissions in the heinous murder of this innocent child.”

The statement went on to read, “It is also another reminder of our past failures as a church and a diocese to protect children and young adults from such terrible predators in our midst. Although we have made great strides in improving our child protection efforts, that is little consolation to the victims of Richard Lavigne and the numerous other sexual predator clergy who preyed upon our youth.”

Another bit of audio released by investigators has Lavigne expressing some remorse for his role in Danny’s death.

“I just remember feeling heartbroken. Seeing his body in the river. Because I was responsible,” said Lavigne.

“Why did you leave him down by the river? You left him there,” asked investigators.

Lavigne responded, “Yeah.” that is my great regret.”

Danny’s parents passed away before they could see justice.

“To hear the voice of a sociopath is just bone-chilling. I’m awfully glad my parents will never hear this,” said his brother Joe Croteau. “We’re disappointed that he will not see justice but we believe there is a higher power and he will face that higher power.”

The Springfield Diocese has paid more than $1 million to the victims of Lavigne many of who say they feared reporting the abuse.

The bishop there saying that even if their abuser is deceased, any other victims of clergy sexual abuse should speak to law enforcement and the diocese. The diocese’s toll-free confidential number to report abuse is 800-842-9055.

NewsNation affiliate WWLP contributed to this report.

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