At Concord Library event, former publisher recalls day of horror in Colebrook
If John Harrigan, publisher emeritus of the Colebrook News and Sentinel, had not received a call to fill in for a production staffer in Lancaster on Aug. 19, 1997, Carl Drega might have shot him down in cold blood.
Speaking Sunday at the New Hampshire Writer’s Project/New Hampshire Book Festival’s theme “Murder in New Hampshire” at the Concord Library, Harrigan recalled the first phone call about the shootings and the grisly scene at the News and Sentinel. He spoke of how he pulled together the staff to put out the paper, as well as how he dealt with the ensuing media frenzy.
Drega, who had been harassing Harrigan’s longtime friend, attorney and Colebrook District Court Judge Vickie Bunnell, gunned her down as she raced out of the newspaper office, which also housed her office.
News and Sentinel Editor Dennis Joos, who tried to wrestle away Drega’s AR15 Bushmaster assault rifle, was overpowered and killed.
Before arriving at the newspaper, Drega shot and killed two state troopers. He was later killed at the Canadian border in a gunfight with scores of law enforcement officers.
Harrigan’s descriptions elicited a few audible gasps from the audience.
“She was the second-to-last out the building, using her time to go through, saying ‘It’s Drega ... he’s got a gun ... get out!’ ” Harrigan said of Bunnell. “She was the second-to-last to get out. He ran around the back because they locked the front door. He waited, and shot her three times. ... She was dead when she hit the pavement.”
After Harrigan arrived, he ran through the building, finding staffers and assessing the situation.
“On a mud puddle on the pavement, covered by a rug, there was one foot showing with one shoe off. I said my goodbyes to Vickie,” said Harrigan to a hushed auditorium. “I went back and into the building to round up the crew. I said basically ‘This is our time. Firemen do it. Police do it. Medical examiners do it. They never know when they go to a call who it’ll be.’ I said ‘We absolutely have to do this’ and we did.”
After the paper was out, Harrigan said he grabbed a bottle of bourbon and walked out the door to spend time with Bunnell’s parents.
Harrigan said he returned the next day, let the assembled media into the building as promised, and continued on about his business. The support that came from the town of Colebrook and surrounding towns was overwhelming and humbling, he said.
“And that is my story,” Harrigan said to a loud round of applause. “It has not stopped what I do and love one iota.”
The story is being turned into a book titled “Their Town.” It is being written by Richard Adams Carey, who has yet to find a publisher. Carey, who read from part of chapter three Sunday, said the book will be 15 chapters; he hopes to complete it this winter.
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