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Nashua police chief to join Shaheen for State of the Union address

NASHUA – Police Chief Michael Carignan and his fellow officers were still grieving the unexpected death of Capt. Jonathan Lehto – who took his own life while visiting family in Seattle in September – when U.S. Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., approached Carignan with a desire to discuss the growing trend of suicides among first responders.

“Sen. Shaheen spoke with me a couple of times, once in my office and another time at a public forum,” Carignan said. “We talked extensively about officer wellness, about how first-responder suicides might be different” than those of the general population.

Now, Carignan, who praised Shaheen for “being pretty vocal about first-responder suicides,” is preparing to head down to Washington, D.C., early next week to attend President Donald Trump’s State of the Union address as Shaheen’s guest.

Ahead of Tuesday’s 9 p.m. evening’s address, Carignan said he is scheduled to meet Shaheen at 6 p.m. in her Senate office, then attend the traditional pre-address dinner before everyone heads over to the U.S. House chamber to await the start of the speech.

Shaheen, the lead Democrat on the appropriations subcommittee, which funds the Department of Justice, said she chose Carignan as her guest because of his “leadership in courageously raising awareness of the needs of officers who are struggling with mental health.”

In addition to Carignan and members of his department, Shaheen also praised members of Lehto’s family for choosing to join with Carignan and Lehto’s fellow officers to speak openly about the circumstances of his death.

“Law enforcement officers are exposed to tremendous stress and trauma while protecting our communities, which has only been compounded by the substance use epidemic. I’m grateful that Chief Carignan will join me for the State of the Union address to help bring attention to this crisis facing police and first responders in New Hampshire and across the country,” Shaheen added in her Tuesday statement. “We need to do all we can to raise awareness of this issue, eliminate the stigma about discussing mental health, and make sure first responders have support and services.”

Last year, Shaheen included language in the government funding bill that requires the Department of Justice to collect national data on law enforcement suicides, according to Shaheen spokesman Joe Reid.

The bill, which became law in December, “will help the law enforcement community, policymakers and the public better understand the scope of the issue and trends surrounding these tragic deaths,” Reid said.

Lehto, 46, was a 20-year member of the Nashua Police Department, working as a prosecutor in the department’s legal bureau at the time of his death.

The news of his death, followed by the revelation that he died by suicide, was a jolting development that “left all of us with questions that may never be answered,” Carignan said at the time.

After speaking with Lehto’s survivors, Carignan wrote a lengthy, detailed statement that he distributed first to members of the Nashua police community then to the media and the public.

“Jon ended his life early, and we don’t know why,” Carignan wrote. “Jon’s suicide forced us to face the fact that we are not immune to this reality.”

Meanwhile, Carignan said this will be his first in-person State of the Union address. “Nope, I’ve never been to one … it should be interesting,” he said.

“I’m honored Sen. Shaheen invited me,” he said, adding that he hopes Shaheen’s efforts “will help generate awareness” of suicide among law enforcement and first responders.

“I know Jon would support it, and I know his family supports it,” Carignan said of the push by Shaheen and other lawmakers to address the issue.

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