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Community, city officials left with questions after learning Lehto died by suicide

Photo by NASHUA POLICE Nashua police Captain Jonathan Lehto, who died unexpectedly Monday on the West Coast, in a photo provided by Nashua police.

NASHUA – Those who knew Nashua native and 20-year police officer Jonathan Lehto, from his Nashua police family to countless friends and associates of all stripes, continue to struggle to recover from the one-two punch they sustained this week.

First came news that Lehto, 46, currently a prosecutor in the department’s legal bureau, died unexpectedly while visiting family in Seattle.

Then, the blow nobody expected: Lehto’s death was by suicide, a jolting development that “left all of us with questions that may never be answered,” Nashua Police Chief Michael Carignan wrote in a lengthy statement he distributed, first to members of the Nashua police community, then to the media on Thursday.

“Jon ended his life early, and we don’t know why,” Carignan wrote.

Carignan’s statement, in part a tribute to his late brother in blue and in part a stark reminder that “suicide is a national issue (that) does not exclude the first-responder community,” seeks to shatter the stigma that too often accompanies life events such as suicide, and more recently, untimely deaths that end hard-fought battles against addiction.

Nashua police and members of Lehto’s family jointly chose to “share the circumstances of his death,” Carignan wrote, adding that “only recently, has (suicide) become more openly acknowledged and discussed.”

He also said “suicide among law enforcement personnel and other first responders is an epidemic. Jon’s suicide forced us to face the fact that we are not immune to this reality.”

Lehto’s death by suicide “proves we must deal with this truth. Moving forward, we do not want anyone else to feel as though they are locked into this decision.”

Carignan said the department has established a “peer support group” for employees, through which “we will continue to provide support for as long as necessary” through the grieving process.

Carignan said that, on behalf of “everyone at the Nashua Police Department,” he expressed gratitude “for the unwavering support provided by the community, local businesses, colleagues and our first-responder partners.

“Your support is what helps get us through these days of grief, while we support Jon’s family, honor his wishes, and still do our jobs.”

A synopsis of Lehto’s career Carignan provided in the statement begins with his Nashua Senior High School graduation in 1990, then heads to Boston, where he earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in 1994 before enrolling at Boston University School of Law, where he earned his law degree three years later.

In Carignan’s words: “From early on, Jon wanted to be a police officer. In 1999 he was hired by the Nashua Police Department and attended the 118th New Hampshire Police Academy. Upon graduation and (completion of his training period), Jon spent several years in the patrol division.”

Transferred to the detective bureau, Lehto “spent much of his time handling juvenile related matters, sexual assault investigations, and other complex cases,” Carignan wrote.

“Jon’s leadership, knowledge, and demeanor earned him a promotion to sergeant. He was a skillful and well-regarded patrol supervisor and detective supervisor.”

Transferred about five years ago to the department’s legal bureau, Lehto “prosecuted cases for the Nashua Police Department and quickly became a respected police prosecutor.

Going forward, Carignan wrote in conclusion, “we are committed to being vocal in an effort to bring attention to, and make others aware of, this (suicide) crisis.

“Jon spent his career helping people,” Carignan wrote. “We are hopeful that by not remaining silent about Jon’s death by suicide, we can honor who he truly was and encourage others to reach out for help.”

Dean Shalhoup may be reached at 594-1256, dshalhoup@nashuatelegraph.com, or @Telegraph_DeanS.