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Divorce near, husband kills teacher, self in Woburn

WOBURN -- It was thought to be an amicable split, so much so that Sylvie Desilets agreed to help her husband pack his belongings days after their preliminary divorce decree was issued. But when she went to their apartment in Woburn on Monday night, police say, Desilets walked into a long-planned attack.

Law enforcement officials say Ajit Chordia, 33, shot his wife and turned the gun on himself, leaving behind a gruesome scene.

Chordia was apparently upset about Desilets's new relationship with someone she had met, said Middlesex District Attorney Martha Coakley.

Police say that Chordia meticulously plotted her death and his own. He had arranged to have power of attorney over his affairs transferred and had sent money to his mother. A neighbor said he saw Chordia waiting in the parking lot of his apartment complex at about 4 p.m., looking toward the entrance. Police say Desilets arrived shortly afterward.

Desilets, a 31-year-old French and Spanish teacher at Daniel L. Joyce Middle School, had planned to return to Canada at the end of the school year. Her death marked the second slaying of a teacher in a week, following the killing of a Newburyport teacher in New Hampshire, allegedly by her son.

At the Woburn school yesterday, students remembered Desilets as a cheery teacher who brought fried dough to school and taught them the name Canadians use for the treat, ''beaver tail."

''Sylvie was the kind of teacher every parent would love to have," said Carl Batchelder, superintendent of Woburn public schools. ''This was someone who had high expectations for her students . . . someone who is definitely going to be missed. It's just a tragic loss."

The couple had resided in a three-story apartment complex in a residential section of Woburn. Desilets and Chordia were both immigrants. He was a native of Pune, India; she was born in Lachute, Canada. They were married at Lawrence City Hall on May 17, 2001, according to records at Middlesex Probate and Family Court in Cambridge. It was her first marriage and his second.

The Desilets family, led by her father, came to Woburn yesterday, where they were assisted by Julie M. Christopher, a Spanish teacher at Joyce with whom Sylvie was sharing an apartment in Stoneham.

Christopher said that she saw Desilets on Monday morning and that she told her she would be at her apartment helping Chordia pack.

''They seemed to have a very cordial relationship," Christopher said. ''No one expected this."

Christopher said Desilets was the oldest of three girls and had a large extended family in the Montreal area.

''Her life here was very limited," Christopher said. ''There was school and home, and then every weekend she would visit her family [in Canada]. That was it."

At Chordia's former home in Fort Worth, a man who described himself as Chordia's brother-in-law said he was too overcome with emotion to speak.

Christopher and neighbors said they sensed no discord in the marriage.

''When she told me they were splitting up, I was surprised," Christopher said. ''I had no idea that they had problems."

According to police, Woburn officers had responded to a 911 call from the apartment once, in 2002. Police spoke to Desilets and Chordia at the apartment, but left after the couple explained that they were having a verbal argument over taxes.

The couple separated on Dec. 9, 2004, according to records. Their divorce was uncontested, records show. Chordia waived his right to appear in court before the divorce was granted, records show. A preliminary divorce decree was issued on March 17, and the divorce was to become final in June, records show.

The divorce application contains a hand-printed, four-word explanation for the breakdown of the marriage: ''Dont [sic] get along well."

After their separation, Chordia remained in the Woburn apartment on Cambridge Road, and Desilets moved in with Christopher.

Coakley said investigators were still trying to determine how Chordia learned of Desilets's new relationship. Christopher said Desilets had met someone who attended the same church as her family in Canada, and Desilets had sent a friend an e-mail, in French, about the relationship.

Some time after the discovery, Coakley said, Chordia closed out some bank accounts, transferred power of attorney, and sent cash to his mother, who lives in India. Coakley said Chordia had worked as a financial analyst, but was believed to have been unemployed recently.

She said that Desilets was shot in the head and at least twice in the torso and that Chordia had used the same handgun to fire a bullet into his own head. Coakley said police had recovered two weapons, both .38-caliber revolvers, which she described as ''very expensive handguns." She said they did not know how Chordia had obtained the weapons, because neither he nor Desilets was licensed to carry firearms in Massachusetts.

Their downstairs neighbor, Leon N. Brathwaite, 65, a retired Harvard University police officer, said he saw Chordia standing in the apartment complex parking lot at about 4:10 p.m. He said that he did not see Desilets arrive, but that shortly after 4 p.m. he looked outside and saw her car, a Mitsubishi Mirage.

At about 6:20 p.m., Brathwaite said, he was cooking dinner when he heard four or five muffled gunshots. He stepped into the hallway, then checked the parking area. Seeing no commotion, he returned to his apartment. Moments later, he walked into the rear bedroom and found blood dripping from the ceiling, where it had collected in grooves between the white-painted concrete slabs.

''It wasn't streaming down, just drip, drip, drip," Brathwaite said.

Police say they received a 911 call from Brathwaite at 6:39 p.m.

Police said they found Desilets in her bed, and Chordia on the floor next to the bed.

Joyce Middle School also faced tragedy in January 2004, when Alyssa Presti, a seventh-grader at the school, was stabbed to death along with her mother in their Woburn home.

Yesterday flags flew at half-staff, and teachers and other staff members hugged in the parking lot. ''It was a hard day," said Batchelder, the superintendent.

At 6:30 a.m., an Internet-based telephone system sent a message to parents telling them the news and that grief counselors would be available at the school for students and staff.

''A little girl walked by me crying, and she just looked up at me and said, 'Why?' " said Ted Fleming, a crossing guard at the school, which has about 500 students. ''I didn't know what to tell her."

The students had settled into their homerooms when the principal, William S. Mullin, announced Desilets's death over the loudspeaker, officials said.

''Their teachers tried their best to answer any questions," said Batchelder.

Sarah Schweitzer can be reached at John Ellement can be reached at Tench of the Globe staff contributed to this report.

The divorce of Sylvie Desilets and Ajit Chordia would have become final in June.
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