Brentwood Officer Stephen Arkell
Photo credit: AP Photo/The Portsmouth Herald, Ryan O'Leary
EXETER, N.H. -- With members of his former department sitting in solemn solidarity and mourning inside Exeter High School Tuesday evening, thousands of law enforcement officials paid their respects to fallen officer Stephen Arkell during his wake.
Two Rockingham County officers stood guard on either side of Arkell's casket as a procession, which all but wrapped around the perimeter of the school as attendees waited to enter, made its way through the doors to show their support.
The night was as much about Arkell and his family as it was about the entire family of law enforcement.
Members of departments as close as neighboring towns in the Granite State to as far away as Bangor, Maine and troopers of the Massachusetts State Police arrived around 4 p.m. In a short time, a sea of uniforms trailed the perimeter of the building.
Rye Police Chief Kevin Walsh said he and his officers were there to to show support for Arkell, his family, fellow officers and the town he called home where last Monday he responded to his final call and made the ultimate sacrifice.
Arkell was gunned down while responding to a domestic dispute at 46 Mill Pond Road between a father and son after a neighbor phoned police to report what officials described in a recent news conference as a "vicious argument."
He was the first officer on scene and was met immediately upon his entrance to the home with gunfire by 47-year old Michael Nolan. Arkell never made it out of the home and it is unknown whether he ever had a chance to draw his weapon. All evidence from the scene was destroyed in an intentionally set four-alarm fire and explosion.
Nolan was presumed dead from the fire. The bodies of both men were recovered later that night.
While Arkell could have never predicted that the scene on Mill Pond Road would unfold as his last day, that sentiment was not lost on those who attended his wake.
"I'm sure that officer Arkell didn't go to work that day thinking his day would end like that," Col. Timothy Alben, superintendent of the Massachusetts State Police, said after exiting the school Tuesday night.
He said he and his troopers wanted to attend because no matter where an officer is from "the uniform is still the same, your job is still the same, and, as you can see, unfortunately, the sacrifice is still the same.
"The story here is about a small town. It's small town USA," he said. "It's a lot different from where we're from."
Walsh said he couldn't know how the turnout would affect the grieving community, but he was hoping it would somehow help.
"Days like this reinforce why we need to be so close," Eddie Edwards, chief of the South Hampton Police Department said. "When something like this happens, we all come together."
He summed up the experience of walking through the procession in a single word: "Sad."
"There's no other word for that. You have to live this to understand it," he said.
Strafford County Sheriff David DuBois attended the event with his father, Richard DuBois, former Somersworth police chief, who in 1979 dealt with an officer in his department killed in the line of duty.
"You don't forget that," Richard said of the experience of losing Donald Kowalski, a married family man who had been on the department just a short time when he died.
Current Somersworth Chief Dean Crombie was a patrol officer with the department at the time.
"As time goes on and things change, the police community grows closer," he said.
Sheriff DuBois said he witnessed a number of retired law enforcement attend the wake Tuesday and that the event for many, like his father and Crombie, triggered a sense of reflection.
He said he thought of slain Strafford County Deputy Charles Smith who was killed by gunfire May 23, 1891.
"At times like this you reflect on those things and the nobility of the profession," he said.
Gov. Maggie Hassan attended the service, privately greeting members of the New Hampshire State Police. Members of the Dover Police Department attended as well and wished to keep the service as one to show respect rather than an opportunity for comment.
A resident of Exeter, Christine Soutter, also the economic development director for Somersworth, said she just wanted to show up and show support for someone who dedicated his life to a community she loves.
"I just wanted in some way to show respect and appreciation," she said.
A 1985 graduate of Exeter Area High School, Kim Treadwell, of Dover, said she didn't know Arkell, a 1984 graduate, very well, but she easily knew the type of person he was.
"He was always willing to help others," she said. "Always willing."
When she learned of his murder, all she could think was, "Wow."
"At least now you know he is in heaven. And he can still help," she said.
A memorial service for officer Stephen Arkell will be held today at 11 a.m. at the Exeter High School stadium followed by a public wake to be held Thursday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. at Stockbridge Funeral Home in Exeter.
Copyright 2014 - Foster's Daily Democrat, Dover, N.H.
McClatchy-Tribune News Service