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Thursday, May 22, 2014

Thousands gather for police officer Stephen Arkell’s memorial

New Hampshire State Police Col. Robert L. Quinn looked out over a sea of uniforms, glanced up at the crowded bleachers at Exeter High School’s Eustis Field, and wondered aloud why the life of a man who was such a perfect fit as a police officer in small-town Brentwood was so violently, and prematurely, taken from so many who loved him.

“While we may never understand why his life was cut short by a senseless act of violence, we are certain Officer Arkell handled the call the same way he lived his life: He completed what he set out to do,” Quinn said, his voice echoing across the field and through William Ball Stadium. ...

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New Hampshire State Police Col. Robert L. Quinn looked out over a sea of uniforms, glanced up at the crowded bleachers at Exeter High School’s Eustis Field, and wondered aloud why the life of a man who was such a perfect fit as a police officer in small-town Brentwood was so violently, and prematurely, taken from so many who loved him.

“While we may never understand why his life was cut short by a senseless act of violence, we are certain Officer Arkell handled the call the same way he lived his life: He completed what he set out to do,” Quinn said, his voice echoing across the field and through William Ball Stadium.

On Wednesday, Quinn was one of several speakers who assembled on a stage appointed with floral arrangements and draped in memorial bunting to eulogize Stephen J. Arkell, the part-time Brentwood police officer killed in an ambush the afternoon of May 12 as he answered a call for domestic violence on Brentwood’s Mill Pond Road.

Close to 1,000 people, from senior citizens to infants, filled the home side bleachers in the spacious stadium rendered pin-drop quiet before, during and after the service.

Seated in folding chairs on the field were at least as many police and other public safety officers who came from down the street and across New England to pay their respects to both of Arkell’s families – his wife, Heather, and daughters, Kimberly and Lauren, as well as his brothers and sisters in law enforcement.

Earlier, a mammoth procession of officers, driving their hometown cruisers and motorcycles, snaked down Route 27 from New England Dragway to Exeter High. Unit leaders shouted marching orders that mixed with the sound of thousands of dress shoes hitting the pavement in unison as the men, women and vehicles made a left onto Blue Hawk Way for the final leg of their march into the stadium.

Gov. Maggie Hassan, who followed Portsmouth police Detective Kristyn Bernier’s rendition of “God Bless America,” lamented a man “taken from this earth far too soon.”

“Please know that your entire state holds you in our thoughts,” Hassan said, her eyes meeting those of Heather, Kimberly and Lauren Arkell and their extended family seated in the front row. “We thank you for sharing Steve’s life with us all.”

Hassan shared with mourners something about Arkell that “touches me, personally, very deeply.”

It was about a young local girl named Brie, who, similar to Hassan’s own son, lived with disabilities. After she died several years ago, “Steve set out to build a path in her memory, a path that everyone could use and enjoy,” Hassan said, her voice breaking a bit.

The path, named Brie’s Way, gained an added significance upon Arkell’s death.

“He gave his life so we can live ours in peace,” Hassan said. “The strength, the vibrancy, of Steve’s life with be with us forever.”

Quinn, meanwhile, singled out Fremont police officer Derek Franek, who was dispatched to back up Arkell on the fateful Mill Pond Road call. He arrived four minutes after Arkell, officials said, and found Arkell lying dead inside the house.

“I know you all tried your best ... and Derek, I only hope that I could do what you did that day,” he said, referring to Franek’s reported split-second decision making that likely saved his own life. “But there was nothing anyone could do.”

Exeter High athletic director William Ball praised Arkell as “a common man with uncommon values.

“What Steve Arkell possessed you cannot go out and buy,” he said. “You just can’t purchase a sense of you. With family, school, athletics, Steve was way ahead of us.”

What Arkell realized, Ball said, was “if you figure out the family part, school and athletics take care of themselves.

“With Steve it was family ... family, family,” Ball said.

Of all his fellow officers, Brentwood police Lt. David Roy probably knew Arkell the longest. The two grew up together as neighbors and stayed close through their school years, he said.

“Heather, Kimberly, Lauren ... we are so sorry,” Roy said slowly, his voice breaking. “Steve was so proud of his daughters, and the love he had for his family was a beautiful thing to witness.”

Calling himself “grateful and honored” to have been a part of Arkell’s life, Roy recalled a man with unparalleled patience, “and the willingness to find something good about everyone he came in contact with.”

Arkell, Roy said, was a master peacemaker who “could calm people, and was eager to help others work through their problems to find peace.”

“He epitomized what a peacemaker is ... taking care of fellow man and his community,” he said.

Arkell’s people-person reputation was illustrated every time he put on his uniform.

“Steve loved this town, this community, and serving all of you, whether it was a lost dog, a car accident, a simple traffic violation or any number of reasons ... no matter what, Steve wanted to help.”

Quinn, in his remarks, said that Arkell “would want you to go on and live your lives, do your best, and be happy.”

Turning to Kimberly and Lauren Arkell, Quinn added, “...by fulfilling your dreams, you will finish the most important job your dad ever started.”

Dean Shalhoup can be reached at 594-6443 or dshalhoup@nashuatelegraph.com. Also, follow Shalhoup on Twitter (@Telegraph_DeanS).