A Grudge and a Gun

How a small New Hampshire town survived that lethal mix



Many people, at least in New Hampshire, know the broad outlines of what happened that August day in Colebrook. Carl Drega — angry and armed with an assault rifle — terrorized the small North Country community, leaving four people dead and others wounded. By day’s end, Drega would be dead too.

It’s been nearly 20 years since then, and for most of us, the details of what happened have faded. But Richard Adams Carey, in his book “In the Evil Day” [University Press of New England] tells us that those details are still sharply etched for the people who survived the terror, still shaping how they live their lives.

 Carey spent many days with the survivors, listening and taking notes, then compiling their harrowing tales into an account of the day that is stunning in its scope.

The tales are meticulously woven together, adding layer upon layer to, as one Colebrook resident put it, the “nightmare from which there is no waking up.”

The minute-by-minute narrative is compelling, but even more so is the context — the “live free or die” character of the isolated town and the lure of living there; how a passion for individual liberty can sometimes go over the edge into lawlessness; but, most importantly, how a small community of people creates a web of support for one another. Yes, there was some finger-pointing after the incident, but  all in all, the community held together.

Because the murder and mayhem in Colebrook happened in a time not yet enured by violence, it got international attention, with reporters streaming into the town to get the story.

In writing his book, Carey endeavors to counter the media’s one-dimensional coverage: “The truths of who people are — the breadth of their identities, the ways their lives fold into the lives of others — become shrunken and compressed.”

No longer. Thanks to fine writing, great story-telling and incredible research, the  lives and spirits of the victims — Vickie Bunnell, Dennis Joos, Leslie Lord and Scott Phillips, and all those wounded and traumatized — are fully rendered. It’s a book well worth your time.  

 

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