By Andrea Bulfinch
Foster's Daily Democrat, Dover
EXETER, N.H. — For the second time in just a few years, thousands of members of the same family gathered Wednesday morning to say goodbye and mourn the loss and celebrate the life of one of their own.
They boast different names, similar uniforms and varying colors of vehicles. But each in the family of law enforcement walks the same "thin blue line," the symbol so many have shared in memoriam this past week since the slaying of Brentwood police officer Stephen Arkell, the symbol that represents the "line" they each walk daily between life and death, and the symbol which states in quiet — but no uncertain terms — they will each carry on duties left behind by a fallen brother.
"This has brought the town, the state, and far beyond, to its knees," Exeter High School Athletic Director William Ball, said during a memorial service held on Eustis Field, where Arkell coached a number of lacrosse games and where officers from hundreds of New England communities and beyond marched onto the field to pay their last respects.
"What Steve Arkell possessed, you can't buy in a store. They don't sell integrity, you can't buy character and they just don't sell a sense of duty," Ball said.
Ball was one of a number of speakers at the ceremony who praised Arkell's many attributes, all of which made him what he's become appreciated for most: a regular guy, a family guy, and as a result, a hero.
Arkell was gunned down while responding to 46 Mill Pond Road in Brentwood for a domestic dispute between a father and son after a neighbor called police to report what officials described in a recent news conference as a "vicious argument."
He was the first officer on scene upon entrance to the home was immediately met with gunfire by 47-year old Michael Nolan. Officer Arkell never made it out of the home and it is unknown whether he ever had a chance to draw his weapon. All evidence from the scene was destroyed in an intentionally set four-alarm fire and explosion.
Nolan was presumed dead from the fire. The bodies of both men were recovered later that night.
A procession along Route 27 of all attending law enforcement preceded the service leading the way from New England Dragway to Exeter High School.
A University of New Hampshire graduate, Arkell received a degree in communications but then built his career as a master carpenter, learning his trade and building skills from a local builder, Gov. Maggie Hassan said. It was a job that allowed him not only give back to his community by literally helping to build it, but allowed him time with his family, including coaching his daughters' lacrosse teams, and time to work every Monday as a police officer for his hometown.
"Today we come together to mourn the tragic loss of a leader, a builder, for someone who was taken from us far too soon," Hassan said. "Stephen Arkell."
"Please know that your entire state holds you in our thoughts and prayers and we are here to support you in any way we can." Hassan continued, calling his a "small town story."
Brentwood Lt. David Roy grew up with Arkell as a neighbor and lifelong friend.
He said they didn't see each other much outside of shift changes, department get-togethers or when Arkell would stop to visit Roy's parents. But he knew all Arkell ever wanted to do was help.
"Make no mistake — Steve cared. He loved serving this town and this community," Roy said.
He followed up on everything, Roy said of his fellow officer, the town's Animal Control Officer, and checked on those whom he'd have dealings with during previous weeks to see if there was anything more that he or the department could do for them. Whether it was a lost dog, an accident, a motor-vehicle violation, "Steve wanted to help."
"We meet people during one of their worst moments," Roy said. "One of the things I envied most about Steve was his patience and willingness to find something good in everyone he came in contact with. He epitomized what a peacemaker is."
Brentwood Police Chief Wayne Robinson said Arkell meant a lot to him both as an officer in the department and as his friend.
To Arkell's two daughters, he said, "there's going to be a lot of people watching over you. If you need anything you can call us. You're not alone out here."
Ball said more than anything, Arkell knew that family was priority. Running a construction business with his brother allowed Arkell to toss tools into the back of his truck, pack up for the day and make it to his daughters' games.
He said Arkell's influence will carry on at Exeter High School for decades and beyond.
Speaking of the heartache felt by Arkell's community, family and coworkers, Col. Robert Quinn of the New Hampshire State Police said, "We may never understand why his life was cut short by a senseless act of violence, but we can be sure he answered that call the same way he lived his entire life."
"Being a Brentwood police officer and working in Rockingham County clearly was a perfect fit for Steve because it allowed him to work with some of the finest and dedicated police officers you will ever met.
I know that you all tried your best and Derek, I can only hope that I could do what you did, but there was nothing that anyone could do. I know you have never left him and you will never forget him. You will always have my utmost respect and unwavering support," Quinn said.
Fremont police officer Derek Franek was the second responding officer, and after finding Arkell's body inside the home, he, too, was fired upon before fleeing out the back.
With an American flag draped over his casket, Arkell was lauded for his ethics as a man, police officer, and member of the community.
"His bravery and compassion represent the very best of law enforcement," Hassan said.
Though many spoke, the words of Ball, brought many to wipe away tears on the field when he spoke of Arkell's grieving brother, wife, parents and daughters.
"They're not just a family, they're a team. Team #87. They are strong, they are resilient and they are Brentwood proud," he said.
Copyright 2014 the Foster's Daily Democrat
McClatchy-Tribune News Service