Concord homicide witness struggles to move forward after tragedy on the Heights

  • Kayleigh Clark on the porch of her apartment at Edgewood Heights where she witnessed the stabbing of Nathalia Da Paixao last summer. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

  • Kayleigh Clark stands on the porch of her apartment at Edgewood Heights where she witnessed the stabbing of Nathalia Da Paixao in July. GEOFF FORESTER / Monitor staff

  • Nathalia Da Paixao Courtesy

  • Nathalia Da Paixao Courtesy

  • Nathalia Da Paixao Courtesy

Monitor staff
Published: 11/16/2019 7:50:14 PM

Kayleigh Clark can still feel the hot pavement that burned her skin as she kneeled over a young woman, a stranger who clung to life in the parking lot of Concord’s Edgewood Heights apartment complex this past July.

Using her fingers, Clark applied pressure to the woman’s stab wounds as a friend monitored the woman’s pulse. The woman was fading in and out of consciousness and unable to respond due to the severity of her injuries.

At one point, Clark recalled someone telling her to move aside because first responders had arrived. But Clark said she was in a trance, so focused on the woman’s survival that she didn’t react until large hands, gloved in purple latex, came into her sightline.

“The scene from that day is so real, so graphic in my mind. I don’t know how to move past it. There’s this constant pressure on my chest,” said Clark, who for three months has been haunted by flashbacks.

On the morning of July 28, a Sunday, Clark and several residents of the apartment complex rushed outside in response to screams and commotion heard in the parking lot. Witnesses told police that Nathalia Da Paixao, 35, had suffered multiple stab wounds and that her husband, Emerson Jaques Figueiredo, was standing over her body with a knife.

Prosecutors have released few details about what unfolded shortly before noon that day at Edgewood Heights. Witnesses told the Monitor that the brutal assault began in the family’s apartment and then moved out onto the street.

Da Paixao, a mother of two, was rushed by ambulance to Concord Hospital where she later died.

The New Hampshire Attorney General’s office has since charged Figueiredo with alternative counts of second-degree murder in connection with Da Paixao’s death. He is awaiting trial from a jail cell.

For the witnesses of that homicide, their lives are also forever changed. The U-Hauls that now seem to come and go more frequently from Edgewood Heights may be a testament to that. Clark said she and others were shaken to the core that summer day and that, for some, continuing to live at the apartment complex is too triggering. The view of the parking lot from her balcony is enough to transport her back to the scene, she said.

On that morning, Clark leaped over the wooden railing and ran several hundred yards to Da Paixao, whose son and daughter were close by. She said initially Figueiredo threatened her with the knife and tried to keep her from getting to Da Paixao.

“I had never feared for my life until that moment, and I can’t even begin to imagine what the family went through,” Clark said. “Now, to be 32 years old and afraid of your own home and the neighborhood where you live does not feel good.”

The search for emotional help in the aftermath of a traumatic event can be a daunting and intimidating one for witnesses of crime in New Hampshire. While Clark is not a direct victim or a relative, she was present as the violence unfolded that day on the Heights and, consequently, she suffered severe psychological trauma. After Da Paixao was rushed to the hospital, the attorney general’s office partnered with community health professionals to provide Clark and other witnesses with immediate support. However, Clark said, as the weeks and months have passed, she has been alone to navigate the system.

She is still searching for long-term support so she can begin to rebuild her life. Before the murder, Clark was working with a therapist at Riverbend who she continues to see regularly. She said her sessions in recent months have focused on ​​new coping skills, self-care and the steps for working through her trauma. But she said she still struggles to complete basic tasks without feeling overcome by thoughts of that fatal morning on the Heights.

‘Psychological first-aid’

In the immediate aftermath of Da Paixao’s murder, a mobile crisis team from Riverbend Community Mental Health in Concord responded to the neighborhood to reach out to witnesses, including Clark. CEO Peter Evers said the team was on standby to provide psychological first-aid to individuals who sought support and wanted to share their grief and shock. Professionals also handed out a leaflet that overviews common symptoms people experience after traumatic events with a 24/7 emergency psychiatric hotline number.

That same weekend, Riverbend also responded to the Crutchfield Building on Pitman Street, where authorities say a Massachusetts man fatally stabbed a Concord resident and then fled the scene in a stolen vehicle. Evers said the crisis team set up a temporary station in the building’s community room for residents – many of them preexisting clients – who wanted to discuss their personal experiences and seek support.

On Edgewood Heights, Clark said she and two neighbors spoke with a mental health professional who distributed informational pamphlets about common stress reactions to traumatic events. She said she wishes the crisis team would have also handed out names and numbers of trauma-care specialists who she could have contacted in the days or weeks after.

“I was still in shock and my mind was just numb after the incident that nothing was registering in my head,” she said.

While Clark said she appreciated the time Riverbend spent with residents, she wishes that long-term mental health services were available through the state to witnesses, who are secondary victims of a tragedy. She wants to learn from others living with a similar reality and wishes there was a support group for people in New Hampshire who have witnessed homicides.

For Clark, the images of that morning are always present. The noise in her head is similar to having the television on in the background while performing other tasks, such as cooking or cleaning, she said.

“You don’t really listen to it, but you hear it and you know it’s there.”

Lynda Ruel, director of the attorney general’s victim/witness assistance unit, told the Monitor that witnesses do sometimes call advocates in search of resources, including counseling and support groups available through community mental health providers. Advocates will make referrals based on an individual’s expressed needs.

At this time, there is no support group in New Hampshire exclusively for people who witnessed a homicide. Ruel said she is not familiar with any other states that do either.

“Unfortunately, everyone comes to these tragedies with certain unique needs and there aren’t always the resources in the state to meet them,” she said.

This month, New Hampshire had its 30th homicide of the year – a near 30-year record. The state is brushing against the modern-day peak of 34 in 1991. Some of them have unfolded in public settings, including outside the Steeplegate Mall in Concord, where on Sept. 25 a man shot and killed his longtime girlfriend and then turned the gun on himself. The crime occurred outside the Zoo Health Club shortly before 8 p.m., and multiple people, who heard gunshots, witnessed the graphic scene before first responders arrived.​​​​​

And in late October, police responded to the New England Pentecostal Ministries in Pelham where a Manchester man is accused of shooting a bishop and a bride during a wedding ceremony.

Ruel said the attorney general’s office quickly called upon the New Hampshire Disaster Behavioral Health Response Team because there were so many witnesses to the incident in Pelham.

“The advocate on scene is trained to identify not only what the immediate needs of the victims and the families are at any given time but also the needs of the community,” she said.

Diana Schryver of the Disaster Behavioral Health Response Team, founded after the Sept. 11 terrorists attacks, said approximately 800 volunteers throughout the state are trained to respond to crisis situations where local resources are not available or overwhelmed. The team, which is broken up into five regional units, responds to anything from floods to fires to mass shootings.

In incidents like the ones recently in Concord and Pelham, experts say witnesses initially experience shock and require what is commonly referred to as psychological first-aid.

“It’s very similar to physical first-aid in that we’re just trying to help people get back to a sense of normalcy,” Schryver said. “We tell them, ‘Here is what you can expect following a traumatic event. If it continues beyond a certain time frame, however, you may want to seek professional help, and we can get you connected with those resources.’ ”

The new normal

Asking for help has not been easy for Clark, who admitted she fears people might dismiss her story because she is not a direct victim or one of Da Paixao’s relatives. She said her heart aches every day for the family and for the couple’s children, who were 10 and 13 at the time.

“It’s hard to reach out for help and to talk about it when it’s not something that happened to my family. I didn’t lose my mom and my dad on the same day,” she said. “But that doesn’t take away from the fact that everyone there saw something tragic that day and everyone is going to deal with this differently and in their own time.

“I would give anything not to feel this way, for peace for myself and my family,” she continued.

Over the summer, Clark was in between jobs and on the hunt for the next career opportunity. However, she suspended her search after the murder and has been unable to work since. She was recently diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder.

“You always hear about these things happening in big cities like Boston or New York and you think, ‘That’s tragic and crazy.’ And then, it happens in your own backyard and your sense of security is shattered,” she said.

“I truly thought that a kid was hurt. Maybe they got hit by a car and broke a leg or needed stitches or something. I never could have fathomed this.”

That morning, Clark was sitting on her bed when she heard the first scream. Her apartment is across the road from the community pool. It was summertime. Maybe a child was fooling around.

Then she saw a friend run toward the basketball court at the other end of the parking lot and she knew something wasn’t right.

“I just flew over the balcony. I didn’t even have any shoes on,” she said during a recent interview at her kitchen table.

As Clark replayed in her mind the events of that day, she paused and pursed her lips. She acknowledged that she gets tired of hearing herself talk about what happened.

“It’s like a broken record that wants to play through but keeps getting stuck,” she said.

When Da Paixao was taken away in an ambulance, she was still alive, Clark recalled. She said she didn’t learn until hours later, following her interview with a police detective, that Da Paixao had died at the hospital. That reality makes overcoming her grief far more difficult, she said.

“I remember telling her, ‘Your kids are safe now.’ I think she heard that,” Clark said through tears.

Since July, Clark has taken to journaling, even though she sometimes rips up and throws away the pages. She said she has written the narrative of that day over and over again, hoping that one day she will do so for the final time.

“I just tell myself to get through it – that this feeling isn’t going to last forever,” she said. “I take it one day at a time and just keep pushing to feel better.”

Clark said her boyfriend tells her that fate put her and a friend at the scene of the crime that day – not only to come to Da Paixao’s aid but to help others in the future.

“He says someone I know may go through something traumatic like this down the road and they’ll have someone to reach out to in a way that I didn’t,” she said. “It’s hard to think, ‘Why did I have to be that person to go through a traumatic event like this?’ But maybe he is right.”

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