They came by the dozens, bundled against the cold—friends and neighbors, young an old, some in suits, some in flannel shirts. More than 450 mourners packed St. Patrick Parish in Stoneham, Mass., for the Jan. 28 service and listened as the pastor Fr. William Schmidt spoke about the Prodigal Son: the parable of a forgiving father who takes his wayward boy back into his home. “There is nothing he wouldn’t do for his family,” a friend, Jim Day, said in his eulogy of Daniel Kerrigan, father of Olympic skating star Nancy Kerrigan. “Danny was that kind of man.”
And in a front pew, huddled close and crying softly, sat the family he loved so much: his wife, Brenda, 69, son Michael, 43, and Nancy, 40. But one of his children was missing: his troubled son Mark, 45, who is now in custody on charges of attacking his father the night Daniel died. It is, for the tight-knit Kerrigan clan, a double family tragedy—their beloved patriarch gone, the struggling son in jail. And for Nancy Kerrigan, the skating queen whose life has sometimes seemed both blessed and cursed, it is yet another strange scandal not of her own making, this time involving the brother she and her family tried desperately to protect. “They always did whatever they could to help him,” says Nancy’s friend and Olympic skating medalist Lloyd Eisler. And most important, Mark’s lawyer Janice Bassil told PEOPLE, “They’re not blaming him at all. They love him and they want him back.”
On Jan. 24 police responded to a 1:30 a.m. call from the Kerrigans’ Stoneham home and found Daniel, 70, unconscious in the kitchen. He was rushed to a hospital and pronounced dead. Mark, who has a history of erratic behavior, told police he put his hands around his father’s neck during a fight; he was arrested on charges of assault and battery. For Nancy, silver medalist at the 1994 Olympics after being infamously clubbed in an assault planned by a rival’s ex-husband (see box), Daniel’s death is especially crushing. He was a welder who worked several jobs to pay for her skating and took her to the rink at 5 a.m. every day; more recently he loved picking her children up at school.
The story of her brother Mark is one of setbacks and self-destruction, but it’s also the story of a family’s fierce devotion. All of Daniel Kerrigan’s kids were athletic, with Nancy following her hockey-playing brothers onto the ice. But it was Nancy who became a star figure skater in her teens; Mark took a different route. Ex-wife Tammy Phillips, 47, says he joined the Army and was stationed in Egypt in the mid-’80s. In 1985 he didn’t get on a plane bound for the U.S.; the plane crashed, killing all 248 soldiers aboard. “He went downhill after that,” says Phillips. His lawyer says Mark suffered from posttraumatic stress disorder and was taking medication for it.
Several sources say Mark was a sweet, generous man—a plumber who helped neighbors for free—but that his behavior changed when he turned to alcohol. “If he’s not drinking, he’s the nicest guy in the world,” says Doug Meahl, who has lived next door to the Kerrigans for 22 years. In 2002 Mark pleaded guilty to a third offense of drunk driving and was sentenced to six months in jail. Nancy went to see him there every week. “She was America’s Sweetheart, and he felt he was shaming the family,” says a source who knows Mark, “but Nancy always supported him.”
In 2007 Mark was sentenced to two years in jail for attacking his second wife, Janet Guarino Kerrigan. The next year his parents sued him for more than $100,000 in unpaid loans (his lawyer claims they were trying to protect his assets while he was in jail; the suit was dismissed). But through it all, the Kerrigans stayed loyal to their son. “They were just trying to figure out, ‘What is it you need?'” says Phillips. “They just wanted him to be better.”
After Mark got out in November 2009, his parents let him live in their basement—and if things were tough, they didn’t let on to their friends. But on the night of Jan. 23, Daniel refused to allow his son to use the phone. Brenda later told police they “started pushing and shoving.” Cops responding to a 911 call found Daniel on the kitchen floor next to a broken piece of the phone and pictures knocked off the wall. They say Mark appeared drunk and told them his father “was faking.” When he resisted arrest, police dragged him into the cruiser.
Mark has pleaded not guilty and is undergoing a 30-day psychological evaluation. Police are waiting on the results of an autopsy before they classify Daniel’s death as an accident or homicide. “I hope we’ll be able to establish Mark is not responsible for his father’s death,” says Bassil. Nancy—who married her agent Jerry Solomon in 1995 and has three children, Matt, 13, Brian, 4, and Nicole, 1—bravely greeted mourners at her father’s wake, telling one, “It’s been really hard. We’re just trying to get through this.” She will now assume a larger role in caring for her mother, who is legally blind and lives a few miles from her daughter.
And along with her brother Michael, who also lives nearby, Nancy will try to take over for their father, the Irish bulldog who adored his family and never gave up on his son. “It has always been about family for Nancy, but it will become even more about family now,” says her friend Olympian Paul Wylie. “She is being strong for everyone.”