Reporter finds kindness amid Greenland tragedy
I was finally ready to pack up my stuff in Exeter and head home to join my wife and kids for dinner, but I had to make a quick stop for gas.
That's when my cell phone rang. It was my wife calling to inform me that her friend in Stratham sent her a text message saying several police cruisers just flew by. I figured it was just an accident, but as I pumped gas at the Exeter station, I saw two unmarked police cars race north on Portsmouth Avenue toward Stratham.
Then another. And another.
Something was up.
I decided I should check it out. I headed in the direction of the cruisers and ambulances that rushed by me, and eventually ended up at the intersection of Post and Breakfast Hill roads in Greenland.
There, I saw a roadblock, a street lined with police cruisers and ambulances, and a female officer from Portsmouth trying to keep traffic moving. The officer had a look of urgency on her face.
Whenever curious drivers asked what was happening, she would shout, 'Officer shooting!' and then motion for them to keep going.
After contacting the newsroom and reporting what I knew, I realized that my smartphone battery was just about drained, as was my laptop. I didn't have a car charger.
'This can't happen now,' I thought.
My phone was ringing like mad. People were calling to tell me things, and I was on the phone with my news colleagues. At that point, all we knew was that several police officers had been shot and a man and woman were holed up inside the home.
You can't be a reporter today without gadgets that allow you to Facebook, tweet and file from the scene. Standing on the front lawn of a Post Road home, I decided my best bet was to see if the owners had an extension cord to give me power from inside.
I knocked on the door and was greeted by Elaina Valzania. I identified myself and explained my situation.
'Whatever you need,' she told me. She wanted to make sure we were getting the word out about what was happening down the road.
Without hesitation, Elaina scrambled to find an extension cord with help from a friend's 13-year-old son, who came with his dad to check on her and her mother. The boy informed me that he knew a woman who lives across the street from the shooting and saw the shootout. He had her cell phone number, so he dialed her and we talked. She became my eyes at a scene of horror, where no reporters were allowed.
A few minutes later, I had a cord running from their house to a power strip they gave me outside. About 10 minutes after plugging in, rain began to fall. Elaina came outside and invited me into her home, where it was warm and dry. I went inside and began working at her dining room table.
'Do you need anything else? How about something to drink, something to eat?' she asked.
I did admit that the only thing I had eaten all day was a cinnamon bun in the morning before covering Biden in Exeter. But my stomach was in knots.
Elaina insisted, and a few minutes later she placed a spread of cheese and crackers next to me, along with a Coke and a glass. A short time later, a plate of sliced apples appeared.
Occasionally, I would head outside, then return to the house and lock the door behind me, because police had warned people to take precautions.
At one point, a crew from 'Good Morning America' showed up at the door. The story had gone national.
As details emerged, I relayed what I knew to Elaina and her 86-year-old mother, Eleanor, who lives with her.
Elaina was sitting next to me at the table, about to do a puzzle, when we learned that Greenland Police Chief Michael Maloney had died - a gunshot wound to the head.
She knew the chief. We all knew the chief.
Elaina put her hands together and covered her mouth. She stared down at the table. Her eyes filled with tears. I stopped typing.
The room was silent.
At that moment, we knew this town of 3,200 - the town where Elaina and her family have lived for nearly 50 years - would never be the same.
Later, when Elaina and I had a chance to chat for a few minutes, she expressed her outrage.
'We should be appalled and we should take a break and say, 'This isn't acceptable anymore,'' she said.
No, it's not acceptable at all. But the good news is that New Hampshire is still filled with people who care, people like Elaina.
I struggled to grasp the magnitude of the tragedy as it unfolded Thursday night. Just when it seemed as if the world had gone mad, there was Elaina, giving me all the comforts of home. She restored my faith in the people of New Hampshire - the state where I was born, raised and will always call home.
Elaina reminded me throughout the night that it didn't matter how long I stayed, but by 1:30 a.m. - nearly seven hours after arriving at her home - it was time for me to pack up.
Before I left, Elaina made a big bowl of popcorn. She insisted that I take some with me, along with a homemade muffin. I thanked her for everything. She leaned in and gave me a hug. I held back tears, and thanked her once more.
The days ahead won't be easy, but it's good to know that we have communities that care, where people still come together during times of crisis. They take strangers into their homes. They feed them. They comfort them.
'I would do it again in a heartbeat,' Elaina said.
That's the New Hampshire I know.