COLEBROOK, N.H. (AP) — About 100 people, including two dozen law enforcement officers, gathered on Friday to remember two state troopers who were killed decades ago in one of the region's worst shootings.
On Aug. 19, 1997, Leslie Lord and Scott Phillips were shot in Colebrook by an angry loner, Carl Drega, who had had repeated run-ins with local authorities. Drega then killed newspaper editor Dennis Joos and part-time judge Vickie Bunnell. He wounded four law enforcement officers pursuing him before he was killed in a shootout just across the Connecticut River in Vermont.
The gathering on Friday was to honor "the loved ones who never returned at the end of their shift," said state police Sgt. Victor Muzzey, the assistant commander of Troop F, the unit to which Lord and Phillips were assigned.
"To remember them is not only our duty but our honor," Muzzey told the crowd.
As troopers stood at attention for a moment of silence, Moriah Penney hugged her two small boys, her eyes red and teary: Lord was her uncle. Not far away, another woman, there to show support for the troopers and the community, bowed her head.
The gathering took place in the nondescript supermarket parking lot on Route 3 where the troopers died. And it was a hard place and time for Wayne Frizzell, Lord's brother-in-law.
"It's a tough day," Frizzell said. "It brings up a lot of memories."
The ceremony concluded with some troopers starting a 55-mile run back to the Troop F barracks in Twin Mountain. Muzzey said the relay runners would be bringing back "the memories of their fallen brothers," although nobody currently assigned to Troop F worked with Lord or Phillips. The final runners are expected to arrive early Saturday, the 20th anniversary of the shootings.
U.S. Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, a Democrat and former governor who attended Friday's ceremony, said Aug. 19, 1997, was "the darkest day of my tenure as governor and certainly one of the darkest days for our state police."
"This year's memorial run is an act of respect and remembrance — and of love," she said.
Gov. Chris Sununu, a Republican, did not attend the ceremony but issued a statement saying, "New Hampshire is grateful for the courage and sacrifice of the brave men and women who are on the front lines every day to keep our citizens and communities safe."
Phillips had approached Drega to talk about his rusted-out pickup truck when Drega suddenly opened fire on him with an assault rifle. Lord was killed a few minutes later when, unaware what had happened, he pulled into the parking lot.
Drega then drove into the center of Colebrook, a town of about 2,300 residents, and killed Joos, the newspaper editor, who had tried to take his rifle away. Then, he shot Bunnell, the part-time judge, with whom he had had disagreements over property issues.
The violence appalled the generally safe and sedate North Country, where people in passing cars often waved to police and each other and excitement centered around activities such as the annual moose festival.
"It changed everything," Frizzell said.
Suddenly, after the unexpected and deadly shooting rampage, people began looking at each other differently, he said.
"You never know," he said, "what is going to happen."