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  • Staff Photo by GRANT MORRIS

    A Hollis Fire Truck blocks the intersection of Silver Lake Road and Ash Street early Thursday morning while S.W.A.T. Team members try to neutralize the situation in Monument Square in Hollis.
  • Video frame by Don Himsel

    John Butler arrives in court for his arraignment Thursday, March 14, 2012.
  • John Butler, 62, was arrested on March 15 following a five-hour standoff with police near the center of Hollis. Butler is charged with reckless conduct, a class B felony.
    Photo Courtesy Hollis Police
Friday, March 16, 2012

Landlord, neighbor doubt Hollis man at heart of police standoff fired gun

HOLLIS – John Butler has been an “exemplary” tenant for 25 years, said the owner of the home where police say Butler fired a gun with an officer inside, triggering a seven-hour standoff with a SWAT team that ended peacefully Thursday morning.

The landlord’s son, who was in his apartment attached to the home, said he never heard a gunshot and doubted that Butler owns a gun.

When Butler, 62, finally walked out of his 10 Monument Square residence at about 4 a.m., police immediately took him into custody.

Hollis Police Sgt. Brendan LaFlamme said Thursday afternoon that police recovered two handguns from the residence, after obtaining a search warrant. There was no additional information about who owned the guns or whether it appeared that one had been discharged recently.

Butler faces a felony charge of reckless conduct and is being held on $25,000 cash or surety bail.

Butler is described as a preservationist and professional photographer who has been instrumental in helping to save historic structures in town.

Butler’s landlord, Bob Valicenti, lives nearby but wasn’t home during the standoff. He expressed “disbelief” that Butler fired a shot with a police officer inside.

Valicenti’s son David was home in the attached apartment before police “extricated” him and his girlfriend, he said.

David Valicenti swears he never heard a gunshot.

“I don’t think that there is a gun,” David Valicenti said. “I don’t think he has a gun.”

Instead, Valicenti believes that police may have heard a door slam, not a gunshot.

“At the end of the day, I think it was a total overreaction,” David Valicenti said.

If that’s the case, it’s unclear why Butler didn’t come outside during five hours of what police called “on-again, off-again” negotiations. Police said Butler barricaded himself and his girlfriend inside during that time while the house was surrounded.

Nashua district court Judge James Leary, in setting bail later Thursday morning, ordered Butler to surrender any firearms he has.

Hollis police prosecutor Detective Jonathan Tate requested bail of $50,000 cash, arguing that Butler was a danger to the community,

Butler’s record showed one prior arrest in 2000 for prohibited contact, the police prosecutor said.

Butler is due back in court March 28 for a probable cause hearing.

The incident began at 8:32 p.m. Wednesday, when police responded to Butler’s home to check on the well-being of Butler’s girlfriend. A relative had called police that evening asking that they check on her, Tate said.

The home is located near the center of Hollis, near the Town Hall and church.

According to police, Officer Joseph Wallent made contact with the woman and began to inquire as to her well-being, police said.

In court, Butler described the woman as his girlfriend of 25 years.

Wallent was then confronted by Butler, whom police described as being “angry and belligerent.”

Wallent continued to speak with the woman, whom police haven’t identified, with Butler standing nearby. Butler left the room, walking down an adjacent hallway, police said.

A few seconds later, Wallent heard what he believed to be a gunshot, police said.

Tate said after the court hearing that he didn’t know what type of gun Butler had allegedly fired.

Wallent immediately took the woman out of the home and requested assistance at the scene, police said.

Police established a perimeter around the home, and residents of an adjacent apartment were evacuated while numerous attempts to contact Butler were unsuccessful, police said.

Hollis police requested the assistance of the Nashua Police Department Special Reaction Team, a SWAT team, which responded to the scene.

Contact was made intermittently with Butler over the next five hours before he finally agreed to exit the residence after 3:30 a.m., police said.

Police obtained a search warrant, and Butler was arrested after a subsequent search, police said.

Butler, a slight-built man, appeared in court wearing jeans and a striped sweatshirt. He was restrained with ankle chains and a leather strap around his waist.

Speaking to the judge, Butler said he couldn’t afford the $50,000 cash-only bail the prosecution requested. Butler said he was concerned about who would look after his girlfriend.

She suffers from health problems and has no family nearby, Butler said.

Arguing for lower bail, Butler told Leary that he’s well-respected around Hollis.

Butler, a former Heritage Commission member, was instrumental in preserving the Lawrence Barn, said longtime commission member and former Chair Honi Glover.

The barn was dismantled and reassembled in 2003 at its current location on Depot Road, where it serves as the Hollis Community Center.

It might not have been saved if not for Butler’s expertise, Glover said.

Glover said she knows Butler’s girlfriend, who used to attend Hollis senior citizen events.

David Valicenti said he saw Butler half an hour before the incident began. Butler seemed normal, just like it was “a regular day,” Valicenti said.

There was never an indication of violence between Butler and his girlfriend, nor any other problems associated with Butler, Bob Valicenti said.

If Butler is guilty of firing the gun, then he’s guilty, Bob Valicenti said. But he added that he’s worried Butler is being “railroaded” and that what should have been a minor incident has “snowballed” out of control.

“Somebody has to put in a good word for him, unless it’s proven to the contrary,” Bob Valicenti said.

David Valicenti said Butler and his girlfriend have been like family to him.

“We see each other a lot,” David Valicenti said. “It’s not like we’re sitting down together to dinner or anything, but we are constantly crossing paths.”

Patrick Meighan can be reached at 594-6518 or