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Rochester shooting death ruled a homicide; victim identified

Union Leader Correspondent

June 08. 2018 2:16AM
Officials have identified a Rochester homicide victim as Billy Jo Ahearn, 24, of Rochester. Police are still searching for the person who shot her. (KIMBERLEY HAAS/UNION LEADER CORRESPONDENT)

ROCHESTER — Billy Jo Ahearn, 24, of Rochester, was identified Thursday as the woman shot and killed near South Main Street Wednesday morning.

Authorities believe the killing relates to a fight involving two groups of people. When police arrived at the area between Friendly’s and The Emily Cross House, they found Ahearn with two other individuals, whom police have not identified publicly.

An autopsy revealed that Ahearn was killed by a single shot; the death was ruled a homicide by the state’s chief medical examiner.

As of Thursday afternoon, no arrests had been made in the case.

Reports of crime have been on the rise in the South Main Street area in recent years. 

Capt. Todd Pinkham, patrol division commander at Rochester Police Department, said Thursday police have seen an increase in activity between D’Angelo’s and the First Congregational Church, where SOS Recovery Center is located.

Pinkham said police responded to the area about 60 times between March 1 and June 7 for reports of activities that included drug sales and use, sex acts and loitering.

“That number is an increase compared to the same three-month period for 2017 (43), 2016 (21) and 2015 (20),” Pinkham said via email.

Karen Larsen, who lives on Congress Street, started a petition asking that SOS Recovery Center be relocated. She and other neighbors say drug activity is wreaking havoc on the city and the church has become a refuge for people with substance abuse disorders.

“These people are doing drugs in the parking lot. There’s knife fights. Nobody feels safe going into the library,” Larsen said. “We had one person last night that was dancing all over the street.”

Larsen is convinced drug activity in the area is what led to Ahearn’s death. 

John Burns, the director of SOS Recovery, and Eliza Tweedy, pastor at First Congregational Church, said Rochester’s downtown has historically had issues with people hanging around committing petty crimes.

“That actually existed before SOS was here,” Burns said. “There are challenges in Rochester like any other community in New Hampshire, but we recognized people needed recovery in the area.”

Burns said the recovery center takes 40 crisis calls a month, provides activities for those seeking sobriety and runs recovery meetings from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday through Friday. 

Burns said the assertion made in the petition that SOS Recovery provides clean needles for drug users is not true.

“They’re not in here hanging out while they’re using substances,” Burns said. “You cannot be in this center under the influence of drugs or alcohol.”

This is the area of South Main Street in Rochester where Billy Jo Ahearn was fatally shot. Police still have not made an arrest in the case and neighbors are on edge, saying drugs are an issue in the neighborhood. (KIMBERLEY HAAS/Union Leader Correspondent)

Tweedy said people do sleep outside the church and there is a known substance abuse issue in the area. But she said the property cannot be monitored 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

“How do I stop someone from pulling out a sleeping bag and sleeping out under the bushes?” Tweedy said. “Sending people with substance abuse disorders away from here doesn’t help, it simply moves it.”

Tweedy, who is on the tri-city homeless task force, said she does not care if people from other areas come to the church for help.

“It would be a sin to turn them away,” Tweedy said. “Jesus didn’t ask where people were from. Jesus didn’t blame people for their own problems. Jesus looked into the eyes of people who needed help and saw them and loved them.”

Burns and Tweedy said Ahearn was not a known member of their community.

Anyone with information about her death can call detective Geoff Moore at the Rochester Police Department, 330-7140.

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