LACONIA — City police are still reeling from the aftermath of having a domestic incident end with a suicide in the department’s parking lot.
“It’s just beyond tragic,” said state Rep. Charlie St. Clair of Laconia.
His comments were echoed by many Lakes Region residents who said they couldn’t fathom the mental toll on the officers who were involved in the incident, let alone that the victim’s son, a six-year member of the force, was on duty and witnessed the aftermath.
“I just heard about it this morning. My heart just goes out to everyone that gets impacted by such a horrific thing like this,” said Margret Welsh of Alton.
Treatment for chronic depression and anxiety — frequent precursors to suicide — has never been more available. Yet the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports suicide rates in New Hampshire are up 48.3 percent, over a 17-year period from 1999 to 2016.
Suicide is now the eighth leading cause of death in New Hampshire.
“We’ve reached out to the police department as the local community mental health center with trained staff in counseling and critical incident stress and offered our support. We understand the importance of having good mental health for our officers,” said Maggie Pritchard, Chief Executive Officer of Lakes Region Mental Health Center.
Four officers, direct witnesses to the incident, have been placed on leave and will not return to duty until they have been cleared by a psychologist.
According to Gilford Deputy Police Chief Kristian Kelley, law enforcement has become much more aware of the need to provide resources, including debriefing sessions and counseling to officers involved in critical incidents. Gone are the days when police officers were expected to put traumatic incidents out of their minds, Kelley said.
On Monday, Laconia Police Chief Matt Canfield focused on what could have happened to make matters worse.
“Fortunately, no one else was killed, no one else was injured, and he didn’t point the gun at our officers,” Canfield said.
Richard J. Bassett Jr., 60, of Meredith, allegedly shot at a vehicle occupied by his estranged wife in Gilford on Sunday afternoon, prompting police to search for him. When Gilford officers tried to pull him over, he refused to stop and was pursued from Gilford to New Salem Street in Laconia, where he pulled into the rear parking lot at the police station and fatally shot himself.
Records in the 4th Circuit, Laconia Family Division Court show that Bassett’s wife of 42 years filed for divorce in July. A case management meeting in the divorce case was scheduled for Sept. 16.
In 2013, four generations of the Bassett family were named as the recipients of the Outstanding Service to Forest Fire Protection award. The family tradition of becoming firefighters started with Raymond K. Bassett of Sandown in the 1920s.
“I have been in the fire service since I was a kid,” Richard Basset Jr. said during the 2013 ceremony. “My father would bring the fire truck home and put it in the yard. I was the only kid with his own fire truck. It’s amazing to be part of such a family, amazing to see the whole family (do) this and will continue to do so. (Raymond) set quite a family tradition.”
Ken Norton, who heads the National Alliance on Mental Illness, New Hampshire, said witnessing a suicide can be extremely traumatic. Many suicides occur at home when someone else is there. In other instances, people come home to encounter the aftermath, adding to the trauma.
“That (witness) is a victim of violence,” Norton said.
After such a trauma, people can experience sleeplessness, anxiety and difficulty concentrating, among other symptoms. The effects may not show up for days, weeks or even years until something triggers the memory.
As 50 percent of suicides both in New Hampshire and nationally are committed with a firearm, Norton said, people can take tangible steps to prevent a death by having frank conversations.
“Ask, ‘Can I take your guns for a week or two until you’re in a better place,”’ Norton counseled. A similar discussion should occur if there is a stockpile of prescription medications in the home.