Woburn middle school faces another tragedy

WOBURN - For the second time in as many school years, Joyce Middle School staff and students are trying to cope with a horrific tragedy.

Police discovered Joyce Middle School French teacher Sylvie DeSilets, 31, and her estranged 33-year-old husband Ajit Chordia shot to death last night in a suspected murder-suicide at a Cambridge Road apartment complex in West Woburn just south of the Burlington line.

Shortly after receiving a report of gunshots at 6:40 p.m. Monday, officers dispatched to the tree-bordered property uncovered the grisly murder scene, finding DeSilets lying dead in a bed with multiple gunshot wounds, at least one of which was to her head.

"Sylvie was the kind of teacher that every parent would want to have," said School Supt. Dr. Carl Batchelder of the fallen 31-year-old this morning, adding that counselors from Stoneham, Woburn, and Winchester were available to Joyce Middle School students and staff today. "She was loved by all and this will be tough for everybody involved."

As a pale yellow Harvest moon clung low to the Woburn horizon, unsuspecting residents approached the television-crew-infested apartment building warily late last night, some turning away from the Burlington line area complex and returning to their cars.

Standing approximately 20-yards away from the property's taped-off entrance, Woburn Police Chief Phillip Mahoney surmised that the local language teacher was gunned down inside apartment unit 317's bedroom before her alleged murderer and husband, with whom she had reportedly been separated, turned the gun on himself.

"We had a terrible tragedy in the building behind us," said Mahoney, gesturing toward the tape-draped entrance. "At approximately 6:40 p.m. this evening, we got a report of possible gunshots. So far, it appears to be a murder-suicide."

"We just feel terrible about this and the loss of these two people. And one victim in particular will be very missed," the Police Chief added, issuing the brief statement at approximately 10:30 p.m.

According to police officials, a neighbor at Cambridge Road's Hillcrest Arms Complex claimed to have heard multiple, muffled gunshots at approximately 6:20 p.m Monday evening. Nearly 20 minutes later, the retired college police officer, who lived in the apartment beneath the site of the shooting, called 911 upon spotting blood coming from a ceiling light fixture.

During a press conference at Woburn Police Station this morning, Middlesex District Attorney Martha Coakley speculated that Chordia might have recently uncovered evidence on an e-mail account indicating that his wife was dating another man.

However, Coakley stopped short of declaring that discovery as the estranged-husband's motive for murder, saying that the couple, who moved to the United States from Canada nearly three years ago, had been separated for quite some time.

In addition, the District Attorney claimed that the separation had seemed amicable, with the couple recently filing for divorce, possibly beginning the court proceedings this March.

"It may have been recently that he received information that she was dating someone else. Whether or not that's the motive, I couldn't say," Coakley said. "That's just one piece of information and nobody would have predicted this was to happen. They were separated for some period of time and proceedings were initiated this year."

According to Mahoney, police believed that the language teacher arrived at the apartment complex sometime around 4 p.m.

Claiming that evidence indicated that Chordia told his wife that he was moving abroad to England or India — a departure that DeSilets was pleased about, according to the police chief — investigators believe that the language teacher visited the apartment to help her husband pack.

However, while the 33-year-old Canadian citizen had in fact made arrangements for a long-term departure, his plans were much more sinister than he led his wife to believe, say investigators.

"He had cleared up bank accounts, given away money [to his mother], and given a lawyer power of attorney — everything that would indicate he was planning to leave for the rest of his life," Mahoney explained.

"This is just so outrageous that he would take her life and then take his own. It's the sign of a coward in my opinion," the police chief vented, adding that the murder scene brought back the haunting memories of Alyssa Presti, a 12-year-old Joyce Middle School student who was allegedly murdered with her mother last year by convicted pedophile Michael Bizanowicz.

According to the police chief and Coakley, although a dropped 911 call in 2002 was traced to the residence, a police investigation into the incident revealed that the tax-related dispute between the couple was verbal only in nature. As such, the pair voiced their belief that little could have been done to prevent last night's events.

Characterizing the investigation into the murder-suicide as essentially closed pending an autopsy today of the two bodies, the district attorney remarked that officials are still trying to determine how Chordia obtained two .38 caliber handguns, one of which was described as an expensive purchase.

"This is a closed case in some respects. The defendant has killed himself. These are particularly frustrating cases because there's nowhere else to go," said Coakley.

"There were two .38's [found at the scene], none of which he had a permit for. [One] was a very expensive 'super .38', which he could have been obtained in Canada," the district attorney added, whose guess that the weapons were purchased in the gun-strict Canada was doubted by Mahoney.

© 2000 Woburn Daily Times Inc.