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Granite State shaken by violence

10 bloody deaths in 10 days ‘unprecedented’; AG’s investigations into killings continue

The funeral service for Greenland, N.H., Police Chief Michael Maloney drew thousands of mourners and law enforcement officials Thursday. The funeral service for Greenland, N.H., Police Chief Michael Maloney drew thousands of mourners and law enforcement officials Thursday. (Dina Rudick/Globe Staff)
By Sarah Schweitzer
Globe Staff / April 23, 2012
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Ten days of bloodshed in New Hampshire during April have left residents on edge in a state that prides itself on its low homicide rate and considers violent crime more commonly the scourge of neighboring Massachusetts.

Ten violent deaths, which spanned the state geographically and occurred without discernible pattern, have set the state on course this year to exceed the 23 or 24 murders, depending on the final classification of each case, that occurred in 2011, according to the state attorney general’s office. So far this year, there have been 11 or 12 murders, depending on final classification, the attorney general’s office said.

“This has been a pretty sustained streak of violence. We have had bad weeks before, but this sustained amount of violence and tragedy for 10 days is unprecedented,’’ said Jane Young, senior assistant state attorney general.

The most prominent killing was that of Greenland Police Chief Michael Maloney, who died April 12 in a hail of gunfire as police tried to serve a search warrant at the home of a man suspected of dealing drugs. On Thursday, thousands paid their respects to the fallen chief at a memorial service.

Four other officers serving the warrant were wounded. Inside the home, the shooter, Cullen Mutrie, apparently killed his former girlfriend, Brittany Tibbetts, before killing himself.

The first violent death occurred on April 7, when one man ran over another in Claremont. Five days later, on the same day as the Greenland tragedy, a shooting in Dalton left two dead and one wounded.

On April 14, a man was fatally shot on a rural road in Chesterfield and three days later, on April 17, officials opened another homicide investigation into three more deaths, this time in Lancaster, in northern New Hampshire. One man was found with multiple gunshot wounds, while two other bodies - believed to be a husband and wife - were found nearby in a burned truck. The cause and manner of their death are currently undetermined.

The deaths, which include at least one suicide and may not all be ultimately classified as homicides, have left residents wondering what has happened to their quiet state and recalled the nerve-shattering 2009 case of four youths who randomly broke into a home in Mont Vernon and maimed a young girl and killed her mother.

On BlueHampshire.com, a progressive-leaning website, one entry, citing the violent uptick, called on the Legislature to kill a pending bill that would restrict the state’s ability to conduct background checks on people seeking to buy guns.

New Hampshire has among the most lax gun control laws in the country, and does not even have an activeadvocacy group that pursues gun control laws.

But Penny Dean, a consulting attorney for Gun Owners of New Hampshire Inc., said the recent tragedies do not mean state laws need tightening.

“Everything is being done that can be done. How can you make bad people obey the law?’’ she said. “If someone is suggesting that blame for this should be placed on firearms, it’s ludicrous.’’

It is not clear yet whether any of the guns used in the crimes were obtained illegally or whether any of the crimes could have been prevented had controls that are in place in other states been adopted in New Hampshire.

In 2010, New Hampshire had 13 murders or nonnegligent manslaughters, or about 1 per 100,000 of population, according to the Uniform Crime Reporting Statistics compiled by the FBI. A high point in killings in the last two decades came in 1991 in New Hampshire, when there were 40, the statistics show.

By contrast, Massachusetts, albeit a much more populous state, had 210 killings in 2010, or about 3.2 per 100,000 population, and 249 in 1991, according to the statistics.

Ted Kirkpatrick, a University of New Hampshire sociology professor who specializes in criminology, said the recent killings are indeed alarming.

“These killings may be completely unrelated but the fact that they clustered temporally would be cause for any sane person to say: What is going on?’’

But he cautioned that they must be considered within the context of the state’s overall homicide rate. “These things don’t happen often, relatively speaking,’’ he said. “Not nearly as frequently as they do in other parts of the country.

“It could be that from now until the end of the year we don’t have a single homicide.’’

Young said investigations into the killings continue and that it is too early to say if there are any patterns.

The search for patterns in violence in New Hampshire has left sleuths emptyhanded before.

More than a century ago, Harry G. Nutt published a statistical study of homicide in New Hampshire from 1873 to 1904.

He concluded that “no accurate classification of motives is possible . . . an exact determination of another man’s unconfessed motive, practically impossible for any deed, is seldom more so than for a homicide.’’

Sarah Schweitzer can be reached at sschweitzer@globe.com.

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