White, pink and purple balloons along with several family photos adorned the front lawn of the former Pickeral household in Pomfret on Sunday, where the couple’s family celebrated their lives a year after the tragic murder-suicide which killed them.
Vickie Pickeral, 54, and her husband, Gregory Pickeral, 53, were killed last August in a murder-suicide where police said their son-in-law, Mark McKinley Hughes, had killed them before firing at a car pulling into the driveway driven by their daughter, Brittany Rutledge, who was dropping off her sister, Erica Hughes’ then 11-year-old son, Ryan, at the home. Ryan Hughes was shot in the hand, but recovered shortly after.
Sunday was the first time guests had been to the house, according to Erica Hughes, who said it had taken some time for the family to make it into the home this spring.
“At first, it was like, let’s try to make it to the driveway,” she said, and they worked up from there.
Now one year after the Pickerals’ death, the family wanted to have a celebration rather than a memorial at the household, an outdoor party with crabs and fondly recalling family memories.
“They would’ve wanted this, more of a celebration that we’ve moved on and that we’re happy,” Erica Hughes said. “That’s all they wanted, was for us to be safe and happy, and we are.”
Gregory Pickeral was a carpet installer who started his own flooring business, G&D Floors, which has been transferred his children, Hughes said, and the business is doing well. Vickie Pickeral worked for the federal government for 34 years, and was planning to retire this June.
The two were high school sweethearts who met in the ninth grade at Maurice J. McDonough High School and were “inseparable, until their death together.”
Coming back from a family game of freeze tag, Ryan Hughes, now 12, said he always felt like he was at home when he was with his grandparents, who often turned small events into mass celebrations.
“Don’t even get me started on the birthday parties, the Christmas parties,” he said.
Erica Hughes said the Pickerals were notorious for supplying exorbitant amounts of treats to classmates on their grandchildren’s birthdays.
“My parents took being grandparents to a whole other level, they thoroughly enjoyed being grandparents,” his mother said. Often, people at school believed Vickie Pickeral was her grandchildren’s mother, as she often chaperoned trips and was heavily involved with them.
Ryan Hughes said it was important to note his grandfather “was a couch potato, he loved to sit on the couch and drink Coca-Cola.” He mostly watched horror movies and especially liked Jaws.
Sunday’s celebration was mostly close family and friends, and close community members who drove by and gave a honk or a wave, but the celebrations honoring the Pickerals will continue, Erica Hughes said, and she is hoping they will grow with time, possibly becoming a charity event in honor of the Pickerals’ generosity.
“We were thinking of maybe doing a back to school thing,” she said. “Instead of bringing flowers or things for a grave site, maybe people donate backpacks and school supplies.”