CHESHIRE, Conn. (AP) -- A year ago, Dr. William Petit had a thriving medical practice. He lived in a comfortable colonial house adorned with flower gardens in an upscale Connecticut suburb with his wife and two daughters admired for their charitable works.
Then two intruders turned the tranquil setting into a suburban nightmare. The hours-long hostage drama ended with the slayings of his wife and two daughters July 23, 2007.
Police say the men with long criminal histories severely beat Petit and forced his wife, Jennifer Hawke-Petit, to withdraw thousands of dollars from a nearby bank before they strangled her. Their daughters, Hayley, 17, and Michaela, 11, were tied to their beds and died of smoke inhalation from a fire that police say was set by the intruders before they fled.
The crimes turned Cheshire, called the "Bedding Plant Capital of Connecticut," from a town where many residents didn't bother to lock their doors to a place where people are increasingly buying guns.
And they left Petit to face a future with none of what he cherished from the past. To survive, Petit returned to the charity work of his wife and daughters.
On Sunday, he was among the thousands who turned out for the first GE 5K Road Race in Plainville, organized by two high school friends to benefit a foundation created in memory of his wife and daughters.
Petit, who received loud cheers as he crossed the finish line, said being involved in such events has been a "coping mechanism" for him over the past year.
"They're all very positive and you almost stay in the moment with the events and then - you know why you're here and you don't want to be here," Petit said as he choked back tears.
"So you just try to stay in the moment and stay positive because even though you feel like crying, you figure you don't want to cry in front of 20,000 people at every event," he added.
Lisa Gerrol, president of the Greater Connecticut Chapter of the National Multiple Sclerosis Society, who knew Petit's wife and daughters, said she sees the diabetes doctor continuing his family's efforts to help others.
"I think that his emphasis from the very beginning is that he wants to take the most horrible situation that could happen to anyone and turn it into something positive, something good," she said.
About $350,000 has been raised for the MS society. Both Petit children had supported the society after their mother was diagnosed with the disease.
Gerrol said she's never seen such outpouring of support.
"It's a huge amount of money. Raising $350,000 is no simple feat, it takes a lot of hard work and effort," she said. "And I don't believe it's finished."
In all, donors gave about $1 million to charity in the family's name, including $600,000 to the Petit Family Foundation that will encourage young women to study science, help people suffering from chronic illness and assist those affected by violence. Some grants have already been awarded.
There are also funds honoring the late mother and her two daughters at schools where they worked and attended.
Petit, 51, has become involved in all aspects of fundraising events - from designing the medals given out to children at Sunday's road race to helping to choose scholarship recipients for the MS Society.
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