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Picture of sadness: Parente family photographer

Portrait photographer Joanne Schulter hasn't been able to control her tears since she found out her longtime subjects had died.

Media outlets across the world have featured a November 2008 photo she took that shows two sisters smiling in happier times dressed for Christmas - a time before the sisters were found dead last week along with their mother and father in a Towson, Md., hotel room. Police say the father killed the three and then committed suicide.

"I remember actually clicking that picture," she said.

Year after year for nearly 18 years, always on the day after Thanksgiving, William and Betty Parente would travel to the Portraits by Joanne shop in Dyker Heights, Brooklyn, where Betty Parente would fuss over the tiniest details to make sure the pictures looked just so. She deliberated over her beloved daughters' outfits. She sprayed and combed and styled.

"I don't know how we're going to work the day after Thanksgiving this year," Schulter said.

And even when the Parentes moved to Garden City from Brooklyn more than 12 years ago, the family would make an annual trip to the studio for portraits of their girls, Catherine, 11, and Stephanie, 19. Schulter, 42, and her sister, Susan DeLuca, 44, who helps run the shop, considered them like family.

More than a thousand of their portraits show the girls growing up. Pigtails. Braces. Earrings. The shop is now working frantically to print enlargements for this week's funeral and wake.

DeLuca said William Parente never showed any sign that anything was amiss.

"Never, never, never, never, never, no," she said.

During one of the sessions a few years ago, Parente - a real estate attorney - offered to help with the studio's legal troubles.

Schulter never followed up.

"I didn't want to bother him," she said. "I just felt like he was too busy."


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