Fatal shootings in 3 small NH towns alarm state

Posted April 16, 2012, at 8:26 p.m.

CONCORD, N.H. — An apparent murder-suicide. A beloved police chief gunned down by a man who later turned the gun on his on-again-off-again girlfriend and himself. A man shot dead on a dirt road.

In just 72 hours, the number of homicides in New Hampshire this year doubled from four to eight.

The bloodshed began Thursday afternoon with two men dead in Dalton, followed hours later by the slaying of a veteran Greenland police chief just days away from retirement and by Saturday reached Chesterfield, where a man was killed on a dirt road.

In a small state accustomed to between 15 and 19 homicides a year, it was three days of seemingly nonstop violence. The wave of shootings has alarmed residents in small towns unaccustomed to violent crime and sent investigators streaming from one scene to the next.

Professor Mark Fischler, chairman of the criminal justice department at Plymouth State University, said the streak of shootings is shocking in a state the size of New Hampshire.

“I consider ourselves one big family,” Fischler said. “It’s incredibly sad to see such little value for human life.”

Killed in Dalton were 48-year-old Joseph Besk and 45-year-old Christopher Smith, the apparent shooter. Smith’s death has been ruled a suicide. A third man, 54-year-old Wayne Ainsworth, is recovering from gunshot wounds.

Besk and Ainsworth were both convicted sex offenders who were married behind bars just weeks after the state’s same-sex marriage law took effect in January 2010. Smith apparently lived with them, but the motive for the shootings is not clear.

“To have this happen in a small community like ours is an eye-opener,” said Mario Audit, the police chief in Dalton, population 900. “It’s usually pretty peaceful. In Greenland, they realize that too.”

Audit — one of four officers in the northern New Hampshire town — hopes to know more when state police investigators return.

“We’re waiting for Greenland to settle out,” Audit said.

The investigation in Dalton was abruptly eclipsed when word of the Greenland shootings came shortly after 6:30 p.m. Thursday. Five officers were shot, the extent of their injuries unclear, according to early reports. Crime scene investigators and trucks were redeployed.

Greenland’s police chief of 12 years — Michael Maloney, 48 — was shot in the head while attempting to serve a search warrant on 29-year-old Colin Mutrie, a man with an arrest record for domestic abuse and possession of steroids, court records show. Four detectives affiliated with the attorney general’s drug task force were shot as well.

A wake for Maloney is set for Wednesday, and a funeral will be held Thursday at the Winnacunnet High School Athletic Field.

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