CONCORD — The shooting death of Brentwood police officer Steve Arkell cast a pall Tuesday over a normally celebratory event — the 2014 Union Leader Hero Awards, which recognize state residents who risk their lives to save another.
Union Leader President and Publisher Joseph W. McQuaid mentioned Arkell in his welcoming remarks. Gov. Maggie Hassan used her entire remarks to praise Arkell and first responders. The four police officers who received awards wore black bands around their badges.
“This guy gave his life, left behind a family. He’s the ultimate hero,” said Manchester police officer Richard Valenti Jr., who was awarded for wading into a bone-chilling Merrimack River in March 2013 to rescue a distraught woman.
“It pretty much hit close to home. (Brentwood) is two towns over,” said Raymond police officer Cory Blancato, who confessed he was focusing on Arkell during the ceremony, where he was recognized for his attempted rescue of a man who died in a house fire last November.
Thirteen people received the Hero Award during an afternoon ceremony at the steps of the State House. They took part in eight separate events. One award featured four Manchester residents who ran into a burning building in May 2013 to lead residents to safety.
Another recipient received the Hero Award for the second time in his life. In May 2013, Ken Murby rescued two people washed off the jetty at Hampton Beach. In the early 1980s, he rescued people from an apartment fire in downtown Manchester.
“It just happens,” said Murby, who attributes his line of work — a Manchester police officer for 27 years and now the manager of Hampton Beach State park — for giving him the opportunity to rescue people.
“It’s a little bit of a rush, but you don’t think about it when it’s happening. You just go.”
Adrenaline kicks in, Murby said, but that doesn’t mean he didn’t get worried while standing in 45-degree ocean water and rescuing the two.
During her remarks, Hassan called Arkell a New Hampshire hero. She noted the part-time officer was the only one on duty in Brentwood Monday afternoon when he answered a call of a domestic disturbance.
Every day, she said, members of law enforcement put their lives on the line, and when they approach a home, they never know what’s on the other side of the door.
“When an officer dies in the line of duty, it cuts to our fabric as a society,” Hassan said. “We owe a debt to all who put their lives at risk to save ours.”
Joe Carelli, the president of Citizens Bank New Hampshire, said most award recipients didn’t know the people they rescued. They were just citizens helping citizens.
The award program is sponsored by Citizens Bank and presented by the Union Leader Corp.