The North Haven couple living in the home that was the site of a fiery explosion amid a police standoff Wednesday were going through a divorce filed just two weeks ago, records obtained by The Courant show.
Deborah Sayre filed for divorce from her husband of more than 40 years, John, on April 18, court records show. Although officials have not identified the person killed in the explosion or a woman who had been held hostage, records show the Sayres lived at the Quinnipiac Avenue home where the standoff took place.
Sources said the woman escaped, and contacted North Haven police about 2:30 p.m. Wednesday, bringing a SWAT team to the Quinnipiac Avenue home. Officers spent several hours trying to get the woman’s estranged husband out, but as the standoff progressed, a barn on the property exploded, touching off a massive fire.
Authorities early Thursday found human remains in the rubble. They did not identify the remains and said an autopsy needed to be performed by the office of the chief state medical examiner.
Officials believe the man was inside the barn when it exploded. Members of a regional SWAT broke a window on the barn and, as they did, they heard a man yell something loudly before the explosion, sources said. It was full of potentially flammable materials such as chlorine containers for a pool in the backyard.
Police Thursday said they did not know the cause of the fire. The state police, New Haven and FBI bomb squads combed through debris looking for clues.
Police are not sure how the wife managed to escape from the house and run to the home of a neighbor, who called 911. Sources said that the man had held her inside the house for several days, possibly since Saturday.
Deborah Sayre filed for divorce in New Haven Superior Court, saying the “marriage had broken down irretrievably.” She did not elaborate. He was scheduled to answer in court Tuesday. The couple married on Sept. 24, 1977, in New Haven.
According to the court filing, she was not seeking alimony and asked the court for a “fair division of property and debt.”
The filing said for now they were representing themselves and that there were no children under 23 in the household. The home address she listed in the file was 385 Quinnipiac Ave., North Haven.
By the time the barn exploded — six hours after the woman contacted authorities — North Haven police had been joined by a regional SWAT team. Police officials said Thursday that five East Haven officers, three North Haven officers and an officer from Branford — all members of the SWAT Team — were hospitalized. Officials with Yale-New Haven Hospital said they received a total of nine patients following the explosion. By midday, East Haven police confirmed three of their officers had been released from the hospital, but two remained with serious injuries.
“They all suffered injuries consistent with the blast,” North Haven Deputy Police Chief Jonathan Mulhern said.
Neighbors said they kept their distance from John Sayre. Reclusive at home, the plumber was often confrontational when he did show himself. Once, when a neighbor witnessed him screaming at an elderly couple about their dog being on his property, the neighbor tried to calm him, and suggested he should not be screaming at older people.
“ ‘ You’re taking their side,’” the neighbor said he shouted back.
Neighbor John Marotto has lived in his house since 1983, three years before the Sayres moved in in 1986. The couple would raise three now-grown children in the home.
Marotto said he last talked to Sayre a year ago — he said the man was prone to getting into petty squabbles with his neighbors.
John Sayre was “a recluse,” prone to getting into “yard arguments,” said Marotto.
Neighbors said he put signs around his property warning people to keep out. At one point his yard had been littered with ceramic toilets and sinks, and 55-gallon drums.
In contrast, a neighbor described Deborah Sayre, who was 18 when she married John, as happy-go-lucky, gentle and cordial.
Her last Facebook post, on April 24, reads, “It’s ok to not be ok. Some days are just harder than others.”
Courant reporter Matthew Ormseth contributed to this story.