It seemed for a time as if the legacy of Carol DiMaiti Stuart could only be one of incalculable pain—both to the family bereaved by her murder and to the city riven by her husband's unconscionable lie. The horror dated to the night of Oct. 23, 1989, when police found the pregnant Carol and her husband, Charles, in their blood-spattered car in the Mission Hill district of Boston. Carol and her infant son, Christopher, delivered by emergency cesarean soon afterward, both died, and Charles's account of an attack by a black gunman sent police swarming through racially and ethnically mixed Mission Hill and brought the city's latent racial tensions to flash point. Then Charles's story began to fall apart. Last Jan. 4, just hours after police decided to pick him up for questioning, he apparently committed suicide by leaping from a Boston bridge. His brother, Matthew, had gone to the police with evidence that implicated Charles.

The DiMaiti family—Carol's parents, Giusto and Evelyn, and her brother, Carl—were left with only their memories of the 30-year-old daughter and sister. In their unhappiness, they might have overlooked the anger and bitterness festering in Mission Hill after the police roundups, but they didn't. Hoping in some small way to set right the insult upon the neighborhood, the DiMaitis decided to establish a scholarship foundation and to devote the proceeds to the residents of Mission Hill. "We wanted to heal the wounds," says Carl DiMaiti, 38, who manages the family's wholesale pizza business. In that, the gesture has been superbly successful.

When the family first appealed for contributions last January, they expected a few thousand dollars. Instead, nearly 10,000 letters poured in from all over the country. Many contained sizable checks; some, just a few tattered dollar bills. When the DiMaitis added it all up, they discovered that strangers had given almost $500,000 in Carol's memory. "We were awed," says Carl of the response. "There were letters from parents who had suffered similar misfortune. We thought people would contribute...but we never thought they would take the time to write all those heartfelt letters."

At first the DiMaitis had hoped they could provide two modest awards each year. Instead, they have already been able to give out 33 scholarships totaling more than $50,000. One went to Michael Santiago, 29, a former high school dropout who struggled through a GED program to enroll at Boston's Northeastern University. He had been looking forward to beginning his third year until his grandmother died in Puerto Rico last year. To pay for her funeral, Santiago gave his family his small savings—money he had set aside for textbooks. "I thought I wouldn't be going back to school for a long time," he says.

Marta Acevedo made it through her first year as an architecture student at Wentworth Institute of Technology in Boston, but even with loans and a heavy work-study schedule, she couldn't swing this year's $4,747 tuition. In stepped the DiMaitis. "I'm proud to be a DiMaiti scholar," says Acevedo, 24, who says she once felt as if the family set up the scholarship as a kind of apology. "But they have nothing to apologize for." she says. "This was not Carol's fault. We Mission Hill residents were victims, and so was she." Scholarship winner Pam King, 23, recalls that not so long ago the very name Carol Stuart rankled everyone in Mission Hill. "Now people are starting to associate her with good, not bad," says King, a Boston University senior. "The DiMaitis have risen above their tragedy."

"I'm so happy we've been able to show people that there's another side to Mission Hill," says Carl DiMaiti. "It's a side that gets lost sometimes, and it deserves to be seen." When they met recently with some of the first group of scholars, Carl and his parents were almost overwhelmed. "They were so grateful," he says softly. "It made me want to say to them, 'It's not just us helping you. You're helping us too.' "

S. Avery Brown in Boston