By: David Noack
For the second time in less than a year, a gunman terrorizes a New Hampshire newspaper office, but this time it ended in surrender and no injuries
The quick thinking and cool composure of a reporter and city editor at the Concord Monitor in New Hampshire helped to avert tragedy when a distraught gunman walked into the newsroom and threatened to kill himself.
The chilling events in Concord took place against the communal memory that just nine months earlier Dennis Joos, the editor of the weekly News and Sentinel in Colebrook, N.H., was gunned down trying to subdue a man who went on a murderous newsroom rampage.
When it was over in Concord, the latest newsroom gunman, an ex-convict who was imprisoned on a number of counts including possession of controlled drugs with intent to distribute, forgery and a weapons charge, was arrested and no one in the newsroom was injured or taken hostage.
The dramatic chain of events at the Monitor started around 3 p.m. on April 29, when Todd Bonenfant, 25, of Franklin, N.H., entered the daily newspaper through a side entrance used by employees, went up to the second-floor newsroom and asked to speak to a reporter.
Loud and belligerent
He was referred to Felice Belman, the city editor, who told the loud and belligerent Bonenfant that it would be best if they went to an empty office to discuss his problem.
She took him to the office of the editorial page editor, who was on vacation. Belman asked police reporter Carrie Sturrock to accompany her.
For the next 15 minutes, the two editorial staffers would wind up making split-second decisions in what would become an unpredictable and increasingly dangerous situation, which not only affected their own lives but those of others in the newsroom.
Once inside the office, Bonenfant spoke about a baby he had cared for that died in 1995; his father, who he said was out to get him; his recent violation of the terms of his parole; his use of drugs and his fear of being returned to jail to serve a long sentence.
Suicide note and guns
As he rambled to Belman and Sturrock, he handed them a suicide note. That’s when he revealed ?but did not show ? that he had two guns, one tucked in his waistband and another in a backpack on the floor. He told them not to worry. He wasn’t going to harm them or anyone else. He just wanted to commit suicide.
Belman asked Bonenfant why he had come to the newspaper and what he wanted them to do. He asked to use the telephone to call his girlfriend and say goodbye.
Sturrock offered to get Bonenfant a soda and Belman said that it would be better if he had some privacy to make his telephone call. But when they were both preparing to leave, he said that one of them should stay behind. They kept walking and he did not physically try to restrain them.
Belman proceeded to the office of the newspaper’s editor, Mike Pride, where she dialed 911. Pride’s concern was to evacuate the remaining 15 to 20 people in the newsroom.
“She (Belman) walked in and said there’s a man with a gun in Mark’s office who says he’s going to kill himself. At that point she had not seen a weapon. I told her to sit down and dial 911 and I walked across the newsroom to the publisher and told him there’s a gunman in Mark’s office and let’s try to get the place cleared out as quickly as possible,” said Pride.
He said the publisher, Tom Brown, went through the building alerting 50 newspaper employees to leave immediately.
“I came back into the newsroom, walked up to each desk and said please get up quietly and leave the building as quickly and calmly as you can and people did,” said Pride.
After the newsroom was cleared, Pride stayed behind ? but out of view of Bonenfant ? so he would be able to tell police where he was located.
Gun at his head, then surrender
“I watched him for maybe 10 or 15 minutes, thinking that maybe the police would want to know where he was or what direction he was headed. By the time I got there, he had the gun out and pointed to his head. He had the phone in one hand.” One weapon was a .357 magnum. The other was a .380 semiautomatic handgun.
Instead of calling his girlfriend, the gunman had called his parole officer, Bradford Down, who eventually talked him into surrendering to the police. Ninety minutes after entering the newspaper, it was all over.
Pride speculated that events may have turned out differently if a male reporter and editor were dealing with Bonenfant.
“I think the way the two women (Belman and Sturrock) spoke to him and remained calm themselves created a different kind of atmosphere. This is a guy who had drug problems and a combative nature. . . . I think it was really fortunate for us that he was dealing with women. If it had been a male editor and male reporter, they might have had a different reaction to him and it might have set him off,” said Pride.
‘Realized he was paranoid’
Sturrock, who has been at the paper for three and a half years, said that when she offered to get Bonenfant a soft drink, he accused her of wanting to call the police.
Bonenfant charged that she had called the police earlier and that the newspaper’s telephones were tapped.
“We realized that he was paranoid. We realized that we couldn’t get up at that point. We said the phones are not tapped. Don’t worry about it. We sat there and he continued to talk. I thought several things: We are going to witness something really terrible if this man shot himself, or he might shoot Felice, he might shoot me, and at one point I thought he might stand up and shoot in the newsroom,” said Sturrock.
Belman said the suggestion to get a soft drink and offer him some privacy for his telephone call worked to get her and Sturrock out of the office.
“The police said to me that was a good strategy. But there wasn’t really a strategy. We did not want to rile him. He was such an angry person,” said Belman.
?(Todd Bonenfant, prison parolee, was arrested and subdued after bringing two guns into the newsroom. ) [Caption & Photo]
?(“We realized he was paranoid,” said reporter Carrie Sturrock.) [Photo & Caption]
?(“He was such an angry person,” said city editor Felice Belman) [Photo & Caption]
?(E&P Web Site: http://www.mediainfo.com) [Caption]
?(copyright: Editor & Publisher May 16, 1998) [Caption]