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Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Vigil to honor domestic violence victims

MANCHESTER – Three New Hampshire women – including one from Hollis – will be remembered tonight in a vigil and community forum on a recent spate of domestic violence in New Hampshire.

Phyllis Marchand of Hollis, Suzanne Vernet of Londonderry and Melissa Charbonneau of Manchester all have been victims of what police say are domestic-violence homicides.

In light of their deaths, the YWCA of Manchester is offering the public an “evening of remembrance,” featuring a panel of state and local leaders to answer questions, followed by a candlelight vigil.

“We’re considering this a call for action for the community to take a stand against domestic violence,” said Katie Schelzel, director of youth and community services at the YWCA.

“This is an opportunity for everyone to come and ask questions, get answers about what domestic violence is, what does it look like, what services are available … and how people can help.”

October is recognized nationally as domestic violence awareness month, so the YWCA had already planned on offering awareness activities, Schelzel said. But, the three recent incidents have the public “outraged” she said – especially over Vernet and Charbonneau, who died the same day.

“We wanted to take this opportunity while the public eye is open to raise awareness of what’s really happening, how a big issue this is and what they can do to take a stand,” Shelzel said.

Marchand, 45, was discovered beaten and bound in her Hollis home Sept. 25. Her estranged husband, Gary Marchand, 53, has been charged with second-degree murder.

Gary Marchand allegedly disclosed to a friend that he had killed Phyllis Marchand, according to police testimony given in court during a recent hearing.

Police said Binh Vernet used blunt force to kill his wife, Suzanne Vernet, inside their home in Londonderry on Oct. 22. Binh Vernet’s body was later found in Massachusetts, making the crime a murder-suicide, police said.

Jonathan Charbonneau shot his wife – who had just filed for divorce – as she entered their house to gather belongings, police said. Charbonneau then turned the gun on himself.

The three domestic-violence related homicides mean New Hampshire has had 26 since Jan. 1, 2005, when the N.H. Coalition Against Domestic and Sexual Violence began tracking the cases.

Schelzel said the forum will be a chance for families, school personnel, health care providers and concerned citizens to ask questions of a panel about aspects of the recent cases and to learn more about domestic violence in general.

Children and teens are also welcome, as the signs and symptoms of abuse in younger relationships will also be discussed, Schelzel said.

Panelists will include Carrie Cooley and Megan Parnell of the YWCA; Grace Mattern of the New Hampshire Coalition Against Domestic and Sexual Violence; Sandi Matheson of the New Hampshire Department of Justice; Sgt. Ron Mello of the Manchester Police Department; Attorney David Nixon of Manchester; and Michelle Rosenthal of the New Hampshire Division of Children, Youth and Families.

After the forum, people will be invited to observe luminaries in the area of Victory Park, listen to the names of the 26 victims who have died since 2005 and take part in a moment of silence.

Karen Lovett can be reached at 594-6402 or