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Conn. killer's NH kin express sorrow

Union Leader News

December 15. 2012 9:47PM


KINGSTON - The New Hampshire family thrust into the limelight by a mass shooting at a Connecticut elementary school released a statement Saturday evening, reaching out to the residents of Newtown to "express our heartfelt sorrow for the incomprehensible and profound loss of innocence that has affected so many."

Kingston police Officer James Champion learned Friday that it was his nephew, Adam Lanza, who police said killed his mother, the officer's sister, at her Connecticut home before fatally shooting 20 students and six staff members inside Sandy Hook School.

"The whole family is traumatized by this event; very sad, very sad," Police Chief Donald Briggs Jr. said at an evening news conference outside the police station.

Champion told the chief that he hadn't seen his 20-year-old nephew in about eight years and last visited with his sister, Nancy Lanza, at a wedding last summer. The officer's mother, Dorothy Hanson, returned to Kingston from Florida on Saturday.

Members of the shooter's family gathered at Champion's house on Depot Road to provide comfort, grieve together and search for answers.

Nancy Lanza grew up in Kingston with her siblings and attended local schools. She graduated from Sanborn Regional High School in the late 1970s. She had two brothers, James and Donnie Champion, and a sister, Carol Gould, of Maine.

Lanza was a stay-at-home mother while she lived in Kingston and at some point took a job as a stockbroker at John Hancock in Boston before moving away from Kingston in 1998. Adam was 6 years old at the time and did not attend school in Kingston before he moved, the family said.

Briggs knew Lanza and described her as a "kind, considerate and loving young lady" who was involved in the community when she lived in Kingston.

"She was a great person who would do anything for you, a heart of gold. She was just a real, real nice, nice person," he said.

A statement read by Rockingham County Sheriff Michael Downing said members of Nancy Lanza's family "share the grief of a community and the nation as we struggle to comprehend the tremendous loss that we all share."

Lanza's mother, Hanson, was a school nurse for nearly 30 years at the D.J. Bakie Elementary School in Kingston and Lincoln Street School in Exeter.

The FBI has been in contact with Briggs, Champion and other family members as part of the investigation, Briggs said.

Rockingham County Attorney James Reams expressed the sadness he and others in law enforcement are feeling.

"Like everybody else in America, our hearts, prayers and thoughts go out to the victims and the families of the victims in this case. It couldn't be more horrific," he told reporters.

It was only last week when James Champion saved a Danville man's life. On Friday, his heroics were chronicled on the front page of the New Hampshire Union Leader. Hours later, news of the shooting broke around the world.

"He's as much a victim as anybody else," said Rep. Kevin St. James, R-Kingston, who said he knows Champion well. "His sister is dead and his nephew is dead."

Around town, several residents interviewed Saturday spoke highly of the part-time officer.

"He has a great reputation in town. A lot of people in town grew up with him, always a solid guy," said Rep. Ken Weyler, who lives within 800 feet of Champion's home.

"He's got a nephew who's a nut, which doesn't reflect on him," Weyler said.

According to birth records maintained in Kingston's library, Lanza was born April 22, 1992, in Exeter Hospital.

A retired captain from the Kingston Police Department, Champion now works as a part-time officer for Kingston police, according to St. James. He is also a part-time reserve sheriff's deputy in Rockingham County, according to the sheriff department.

Downing first met Champion when Downing was a state trooper and Champion had just returned to Kingston after serving in the Army in the early 1980s. Champion was just beginning his career in law enforcement.

"Throughout his career he's been an example to his fellow officers. He's been an asset because of his knowledge and expertise. He's very well-respected by his peers and the departments that surround Kingston," Downing said.

Downing said Champion is in a tough position that no one would ever want to face.

"He's trying to come to terms with the loss of his sister and the fact that his nephew has done this. It's very difficult to comprehend why someone would do something like this," Downing said.

Last Sunday, Champion pulled out a portable defibrillator and used it to resuscitate Danville resident Mark Ethridge, whose heart had stopped beating. In an interview with The Union Leader, Champion said the man was fortunate that things worked out.

"His family is going to have him for Christmas," Champion said the day before the school massacre.

Neighbor Paul Cote called the officer a "good man."

Asked about how Champion went from saving a man's life to mourning lost family members, Cote said: "That's hard to believe."

St. James said he hasn't talked with Champion since the school shooting. "I can only imagine what Jim's going through," he said. "I think he needs his privacy now."

Weyler recalled a dog from a nearby junkyard occasionally would visit the family's German shepherd.

"Somebody had shot the dog, the junkyard dog," Weyler said. "Jim was the guy who came and bandaged him up.

"Jim was always good like that. He wasn't a tough cop," Weyler said. "People realized he was always a very sympathetic person."

Weyler's wife, Carol, called Champion "a sweetheart" and recalled a story involving him more than 30 years ago.

"One time, my son (Donald) cut his finger from a can," she said. "I came home to see Jim bandaging up my son's finger."

Mark Joyce, executive director of the New Hampshire School Administrators Administration, called Dorothy Champion "an outstanding employee and person."

Rep. Weyler said Jim and Nancy Champion's father, Donald, was an airline pilot at TWA and became a real estate agent before passing away.

Karin Herrick, who has lived on that road since 1977, said she didn't remember the Champion family other than the officer.

"Being a local police officer, we knew him," Herrick said.

She said she couldn't have fathomed when she heard the news of the school shooting that its tentacles would lead to her street. "You never suspected it would have anything to do with anyone in Kingston," she said.

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