New Hampshire’s 32 homicides in 2019 were the most in decades and half again as many as in 2018, which was the highest number in five years.
But Jeffery Strelzin, senior assistant attorney general, said it’s too soon to know whether this is a disturbing new trend or an “aberration.”
“We won’t be able to know it’s a trend until we’re in the future and look back,” he said.
What is true is that random killings remain rare in New Hampshire, Strelzin said. “The vast majority of victims and perpetrators know each other,” he said.
Many of the homicides in 2019 were related to domestic violence, and some were murder-suicides. Even in the final weeks of the year, violence involving family members continued.
A 42-year-old man was accused of killing his 88-year-old grandmother in Sandown on Dec. 11. And six days later, an 85-year-old man in Littleton shot his wife, who neighbors said was in failing health, before fatally shooting himself.
Strelzin said investigators at the AG’s office, state and local police departments, as well as the medical examiner’s office and forensic lab, have been feeling the strain of the additional workload. So are the advocates who work with victims’ families, he said.
But, he said, “People have stepped up and continue to step up and do what we need to do for these cases and for the victims’ family members and for the public.”
Amanda Grady Sexton, director of public affairs at the New Hampshire Coalition Against Domestic and Sexual Violence, said the increase was troubling.
“We should all be alarmed by the number of individuals who killed people in New Hampshire in 2019,” she said.
While most domestic violence homicides are committed by men, society still tends to focus on the victims’ actions, Sexton said.
“We ask why she didn’t leave the relationship and talk about how she attracted the wrong kind of men,” she said. “Rarely do we ask men why they are abusive in their homes, why they won’t stop using violence, or what’s preventing them from getting help.”
One of the most effective ways to prevent domestic violence is to work with children “to build the social and emotional skills that become the foundation of healthy friendships and relationships,” Grady Sexton said. “If we focus our resources and efforts on prevention and early intervention with children who are abused or witnessing violence, we can end cycles of abuse and reduce violence in our communities.”
Strelzin said the victims’ family members are uppermost in his mind when he works on homicide cases.
“If you think about any loved one you’ve ever had who has passed away from sickness or old age or an accident, everyone knows how painful that is,” he said. “Imagine someone coming into your life, murdering your loved one and taking them away.
“That’s a very different kind of loss.”
Families remain devastated, even many years after a murder occurs, Strelzin said.
“That’s because of not just the loss of their loved one, but how they lost them,” he said. “Time does not heal all wounds.
“The dead are at peace,” he said. “It’s the living who are suffering.
“And that is the hardest part of this job.”