Sima Setian Pariseau and son Dylan Pariseau remembered following tragic deaths

Sima Setian Pariseau and Dylan Pariseau at the St. Gregory Armenian Apostolic Church Father’s Day picnic, June 16, 2024

Sima Setian Pariseau, 56, and Dylan Pariseau, 27, pillars of the St. Gregory Armenian Apostolic Church community of Indian Orchard, Massachusetts, died last week, victims of an apparent murder-suicide.

“Sima was a quiet leader, a rock, a beacon — a steadying force we all need in our lives,” Tanya Garibian, chairperson of the St. Gregory Church Board, said in the Weekly. “Her warm smile had the remarkable ability to reach out and hug and comfort you from afar. This quiet strength and compassion were the hallmarks of her character. Dylan, her mini-me, carried that same light, humility and love within him.”

Police found Sima and Dylan in the basement of their home with gunshot wounds on the morning of June 18, Wilbraham Chief of Police Edward Lennon told the Weekly. Peter Donaldson, Sima’s domestic partner, was found on the first floor of the house with self-inflicted gunshot wounds. The Wilbraham Police Department was responding to a call from a person “known to the family” who was “concerned about their wellbeing.” Donaldson had suffered with depression for several months leading up to the incident, according to a group of Sima’s friends. 

Sima leaves behind a legacy as a community leader and vice chair of the Board of Trustees of St. Gregory. The church described Sima as the “epitome of strength, our moral compass and a compassionate leader. She was admired for her critical thinking and never backed away from difficult decisions,” in a statement celebrating her life. As a member of the Board of Trustees, Sima organized and led many of the church’s major events — including on June 16, when she was last seen wearing a ‘Kitchen Helper’ apron and serving food alongside Dylan at the church’s Father’s Day picnic. 

Sima’s entire life was built around loving and comforting others and doing good while she was here on earth,” Garibian said, describing Sima and her family as the “backbone” of the church. “She loved Saint Gregory church — the people, the culture, the history and the Christian outreach. Dylan was following in her footsteps, always there to lend a hand and offer support with humility and grace.”

Sima was the latest in a long line of leaders of St. Gregory from the Setian family. The Setians were among the 26 charter families who founded the church in 1934. Sima’s father Harry Setian was honored at the church’s 90th anniversary celebration this April for his years of volunteer service, and her brother Bedros is a deacon at the church.

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Nayiri Baljian Bell, the principal of the St. Stephen’s Sunday School whose father was the pastor of St. Gregory for 19 years, recalled seeing Sima’s face “glowing with pride” as she watched her father receive the award. “I’m sure his face was glowing with pride when he saw her doing all that she was doing,” Baljian Bell said. 

Growing up, Sima would babysit Baljian Bell and her brother, and she would later babysit Sima’s niece and nephew. She still calls Sima’s parents “Uncle Harry and Aunt Liz” and lovingly remembers “Uncle Harry’s pilaf.” “In a small place like Springfield, with a small Armenian community, these people are your family,” she said.

Baljian Bell reflected in a conversation with the Weekly on the importance of intergenerational ties, like those of the Setian family, in keeping small Armenian communities alive. “Sima had an outsize impact, in many ways like her parents. She was a workforce, a positive influence. She was always moving, always working, always serving, and that’s exactly how I remember her parents,” she said. 

St. Gregory’s 90th anniversary celebration at the Wilbraham Country Club, April 14, 2024

As her parents aged, Sima took charge of their medical needs, ensuring they attended all their appointments and providing them with daily support. Indeed, service was interwoven with Sima’s life. She was a long-time employee of Baystate Medical Center as a medical coding specialist as well as a recent coding specialist at Massachusetts General Brigham Hospital. She was also a volunteer with the Hampden County Court Appointed Special Advocate program, where she aided youth in the foster care system. 

Her son Dylan followed her footsteps into the medical field. He received a bachelor of science degree in biology and chemistry from Keene State College in 2019. He worked as a research associate at Moderna Therapeutics and a senior research associate at Verve Therapeutics. 

During the Father’s Day picnic, Garibian jokingly called Dylan the AARP guide, after observing him helping elderly members of the community, whether by assisting them down the stairs into the church hall or walking them from their cars to the picnic grounds. His humble smile spoke for him as if to say, “That’s just me. That’s who I am, and that’s who I’ll always be.”

“At a tender age, he was supportive, humble, and like Sima, always flying under the radar, changing the world and helping people one by one. Today, they soar with the angels,” Garibian said. 

A wake will be held for Sima and Dylan on June 26 from 2-6 p.m., followed by a funeral on June 27 at 11 a.m. Both will be held at St. Cecilia Parish, 42 Main St., Wilbraham, Massachusetts 01095.

In lieu of flowers, memorial contributions in Sima’s name may be made to St. Gregory, the Court Appointed Special Advocates of Hampden County or Survivors Empowered, a nonprofit organization that supports survivors of gun violence and the family and friends of shooting victims. Memorial contributions in Dylan’s name may be made to the David Neonatal Intensive Care Unit at the Baystate Health Foundation or Survivors Empowered. 

Message from the St. Gregory Church community
By Tanya Garibian, chairperson of the St. Gregory Church Board

With heavy hearts, we at Saint Gregory Armenian Church in Indian Orchard, Massachusetts, honor the lives of our beloved Sima Setian Pariseau and her sweet son Dylan Pariseau. In our moment of profound grief, we also find an opportunity to celebrate two lives that truly embodied all that is good about Armenians and radiated love, kindness and unwavering faith.

Sima was a quiet leader, a rock, a beacon—a steadying force we all need in our lives. Her presence was unique and irreplaceable. Her warm smile had the remarkable ability to reach out and hug and comfort you from afar. This quiet strength and compassion were the hallmarks of her character. Dylan, her mini-me, carried that same light, humility and love within him.

St. Gregory Church Board

Tragically, both Sima and Dylan were taken from us through an act of senseless violence — a brutality not one of us can understand. This dark action might have taken their lives, but it did not kill their souls. It is up to us to ensure that their spirit continues to shine brightly. We cannot allow this tragedy to beat us. Instead, we must honor their memory by pushing forward as their brothers and sisters in Christ, carrying on the mantle of our church and all that was so important to them.

Sima’s entire life was built around loving and comforting others and doing good while she was here on earth. She and her entire family are the backbone of Saint Gregory Armenian Church in Indian Orchard. Someone wrote on Facebook that she and her family were synonymous with the church altar. It is so true! She loved Saint Gregory Church — the people, the culture, the history and the Christian outreach. Dylan was following in her footsteps, always there to lend a hand and offer support with humility and grace.

I recall during last Sunday’s Father’s Day picnic, I joked with Dylan that he was the AARP guide, because if you stopped and took a moment to take in the day, you saw him reaching out to our elders who needed help or support — whether it was assisting them down the stairs into the church hall or walking with them from their car to the picnic grounds. He smiled back at me with complete humility — his smile spoke for him, as if to say, “That’s just me; that’s who I am and that’s who I’ll always be.” At a tender age he was supportive, humble, and like Sima, always flying under the radar, changing the world and helping people one by one. Today, they soar with the angels.

Sima and Dylan’s love extended to everyone — best friends and neighbors alike. They had a way of projecting love and kindness to everyone around them, near and far. As we remember them, we can only learn from their example and carry their lessons on like a torch — passing it on like in a relay, from person to person, to keep their beautiful spirits burning and their memories alive.

We must now step in and fill the gaps they so quietly filled for us. Let us honor Sima and Dylan not by retreating into sorrow and anger, but by overwhelming the darkness of this tragedy with the light of their spirits.  

There is a huge hole in our hearts. My own heart feels so empty, left with just a thin outline of its former self. Yet, in this emptiness, we can find the strength and the will from God to continue what Sima and Dylan wanted: a vibrant Armenian church, our pews packed, a world full of peace, lighting up the world with compassion, giving back, loving one another and being kind and gracious every day.

As we remember Sima and Dylan, I reflect on a Bible verse that so perfectly encapsulates their lives and legacy: “The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.”  — Psalm 34:18. This verse is a reminder that even in our deepest sorrow, God is with us, just as Sima and Dylan’s spirits will always be with us.

We must now step in and fill the gaps they so quietly filled for us. Let us honor Sima and Dylan not by retreating into sorrow and anger, but by overwhelming the darkness of this tragedy with the light of their spirits. Their spirits will now and forever live in the hearts of each of us, and they will be the whisper of comfort we all feel every time we sit in a pew of our church home. We must carry their legacy forward, embodying the love, kindness and compassion that they so generously shared with the world.

Thank you, Sima and Dylan, for being our guiding lights. May your spirits continue to inspire us, and may we always strive to live as you did — with love, humility and an unwavering commitment to doing good.

In lieu of flowers, memorial contributions in Sima’s name may be made to St. Gregory’s Armenian Church, 135 Goodwin St., PO Box 51064, Indian Orchard, MA 01151 or at www.saintgregoryarmenianchurch.org.

Amen.

Lillian Avedian

Lillian Avedian

Lillian Avedian is the assistant editor of the Armenian Weekly. She reports on international women's rights, South Caucasus politics, and diasporic identity. Her writing has also been published in the Los Angeles Review of Books, Democracy in Exile, and Girls on Key Press. She holds master's degrees in journalism and Near Eastern studies from New York University.

2 Comments

  1. We extend our sincere sympathy to the Setian family as well as their extended St Gregory’s church community on the tragic passing of Sima and Dylan.
    With energy, dignity and caring, Sima– with Dylan at her side–added to previous decades of Setian family service to St. Gregory’s church and a proud Indian Orchard community.
    Sima followed in the footsteps of parents Liz and Harry ,her grandparents and other family members who gave ongoing devotion to their beloved church.
    We ask God’s blessing on their souls and his enduring comfort and care to the Setian family.

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