Graveside service set for murdered altar boy Danny Croteau nearly 50 years after death

SPRINGFIELD (MA) Republican [Springfield MA]

June 24, 2021

By Stephanie Barry

Surviving members of the Croteau family will hold a graveside memorial service Monday for Daniel “Danny” Croteau, the 13-year-old altar boy authorities determined was killed by his parish priest in 1972.

Hampden District Attorney Anthony D. Gulluni announced the service will be conducted at Hillcrest Cemetery near the headstone that has marked the boy’s final resting place for almost 50 years. The service will take place a month after the death of his alleged killer, defrocked Catholic priest Richard Lavigne.

Lavigne was his presumed killer, Gulluni has said. Croteau was bludgeoned in the head and found facedown floating in the Chicopee River on April 15, 1972 — a day after he went missing.

In recent months, Lavigne admitted to Massachusetts State Trooper Michael T. McNally that he was the last to see Croteau, struck him in the head with a rock and gave him “a good shove” into the Chicopee River.

Lavigne claimed to have brought the child to the water’s edge at Croteau’s request so he could get a closer look at a waterfall. However, he had sexually abused Croteau and witnesses told police Danny had once threatened to “tell.”

Lavigne made the disclosures to McNally over five days of voluntary interviews in April and May while the former cleric was hospitalized. Lavigne died May 21 of COVID-19, according to his death certificate. Gulluni and his investigators were actively pursuing an arrest warrant for murder.

Retired priest Rev. James Scahill will preside over the service — a symbolic gesture in itself. Scahill was a reformist who pushed his own diocese relentlessly to make amends with victims of clergy abuse and cut Lavigne from the diocesan payroll after Lavigne was defrocked in 2003.

Scahill retired in 2014 after 40 years of ministry which included aggressive advocacy on behalf of his parishioners and being ostracized by many in the diocesan leadership.

“This came from the pews to the pulpit, not the pulpit to the pews,” Scahill said of his long battle with the church.

Lavigne — who denied involvement in Croteau’s death for decades — presided over the boy’s funeral Mass and burial service 49 years ago. Members of the Croteau family want to rededicate the burial site without the taint of Lavigne even in spirit, Scahill said.

Surviving family members appealed to him to return to Western Massachusetts for the service.

“There’s no honor this church could give me that could even come close to the honor of the Croteau family inviting me to the graveside to offer reflection and prayer,” Scahill said.

Danny Croteau, a 13-year-old altar boy from Springfield, was found dead on April 15, 1972 along the Chicopee River banks in Chicopee Falls.
Danny Croteau, a 13-year-old altar boy from Springfield, was found dead on April 15, 1972 along the Chicopee River banks in Chicopee Falls.