Events, features and things to do for families in New Hampshire
By Jeff Woodburn
The snow just wouldn’t retreat from my school’s rudimentary baseball field in the spring of 1979. I was in eighth grade and in love with baseball and for me the dream of playing for the Boston Red Sox was being held back by winter’s hard grip on my North Country landscape.
But on the 11th day of May life was perfect. The sun was warm to the skin and actually hurt the eyes to stare into it and it was a Saturday; the best day of the week. I was 14, nearly 15, and high school was just months away.
Much would change in the year ahead, more than I could have ever imagined for me and my community. But on this day, a whiffle ball game at Jeff Boucher’s house on Lancaster Road was all that mattered. I’m sure Ray Clement was there and there must have been one more person as well because we always played two on two.
Then, my father, the local funeral director, arrived on the scene. I don’t recall what he said, but I remember knowing instantly that something wrong. We lived only a short distance away and in those days, parents mostly let their kids be (we were provided a good example, stern hand when necessary but mostly we were left alone). Never had they come looking for me – nothing was so crucial that it couldn’t wait the few hours until I wandered home.
Somehow I learned that a local Catholic priest, Father Joseph Sands, had been murdered by a couple at the Littleton rectory. He was well known for his work with troubled teens and even opened a house for wayward adolescents in Lancaster. The deranged man, who had recently been released from the state hospital and deemed to be not a risk to others, had a specific gripe with the vacationing local parish priest and was looking for revenge.
At gunpoint, the church secretary called Father Sands, who was covering for the Littleton priest. Sands arrived and managed to save the secretary and her son, before the couple turned their gun on him and themselves. Supposedly it all ended when it became clear the vacationing priest was not available.
I don’t remember being shocked, scared or unsettled by it all, but I must have been. I was after all somewhat familiar with Sands. I was an altar boy and required to go to Mass weekly. I do recall clipping the articles from the newspaper – knowing it was something that needed to be remembered.
I was later told that the region was totally unprepared to deal with such calamity —including a five-hour hostage situation. Supposedly children filled the park near the rectory, while rifle-drawn police surrounded the area. The North Country was so isolated in those days; life in my little community was hardly different from 30 years prior when my father was my same age.
Bad things didn’t happen here and when they did they were covered up and hidden away. But change was coming.
My memory tells me that summer – before my freshmen year – things changed in Whitefield and the North Country. It may have been just me , but I recall that right after that our town finally got connected to cable television and instantly being inside became a luxury, not a punishment.
Jeff Woodburn, of Dalton, is a writer, teacher and Executive Director of the Council for Children and Adolescents with Chronic Health Conditions. He can be reached at jeff@WhiteMtNews.com.
Last updated by Parenting NH Administrator Jun 7, 2012.