BRENTWOOD, N.H. — Steve Arkell was the kind of police officer who would rather write a warning than a ticket and aimed to end fights with words instead of handcuffs. As the animal control officer in this rural town, he was forever returning runaway dogs to their owners and then stopping to chat about his daughters and the high school lacrosse team he helped coach.
“He was a man that wanted to help everybody,” said Brentwood Police Lieutenant David Roy, who knew Arkell from the time the two were in first grade. “I’ve always considered him a peacemaker.”
On Monday just after 4 p.m., the 48-year-old Arkell responded to a domestic disturbance call on Mill Pond Road.
When Arkell walked inside, he was hit almost immediately with a barrage of gunfire, bullets tearing through his body and into the wall, according to the New Hampshire attorney general’s office. Another officer following minutes behind found Arkell, a married father of two daughters, lying on his back, apparently already dead.
“He was probably one of the best people I’ve ever known,” Roy said. “He was a great dad, father, son, brother, husband.”
Arkell’s family asked for privacy Tuesday, and a State Police trooper stood guard at the top of the wooded street where they live.
Arkell joined the force 15 years ago as a part-time patrol and animal control officer, said Brentwood Police Chief Wayne Robinson, and was known for approaching his work with compassion.
“Being the animal control officer, he went out of his way to try to solve a problem with somebody with an animal, if they had money problems,” Robinson said. “Instead of giving a ticket, he’d try to work something else out.”
In this rural town of about 4,200, residents know each other — and they know their police, who number just 10.
“I used to have a white German shepherd that used to like to escape,” said Andrea O’Loughlin, 48. “He’s picked my dog up and brought him to the house. That’s how this community is — everybody knows everybody.”
Her dog, Bear, is dead now, but O’Loughlin developed a familiar patter with police over the years: She would call Christine at dispatch, talk about the kids, get Steve on the phone.
O’Loughlin called just last week, she said, about a boxer she picked up in the street and caught Arkell as he headed to his daughter’s lacrosse game. She offered to hold onto the dog until Arkell was free, and the boxer’s owner found her soon after.
It would have been perfectly forgettable, except that it was the last time she would speak with the officer whose infectious smile was so familiar.
“As a community, we’ll pick up the pieces,” O’Loughlin said. “But we’ve lost a major part of our lives.”
On Tuesday, businesses across Brentwood’s 17 square miles joined in lowering their flags to half-staff, some adding black mourning stripes. Signs remembering Arkell and sending prayers to his family popped up on roadsides, doors, and windows.
“We at [Brentwood County Store] are sad at the loss of Stephen Arkell / Lamenting!” read the sign in front of the old-fashioned cafe and convenience store off Route 125, where residents buy scratch tickets, sandwiches, and homemade whoopie pies.
As he poured himself some green tea, Ward Byrne, 46, recalled Arkell as a childhood friend who grew into a “salt of the earth” man.
“He’s a guy that’s always looking for a good outcome,” Byrne said. “I’m sure Steve went [to the home where he was killed] to have a positive outcome, and he just got caught off guard.”
In addition to working part time as a patrol officer and animal control officer, Arkell did construction with his brother and helped coach lacrosse at Exeter High School, where this year his daughters, a freshman and a senior, are on the team.
“He was so close with his girls,” said Joyce Miller, a librarian at the Mary E. Bartlett Library, just down the street from the Police Department. Miller lives a block away from the Arkells and said the family came regularly to the library.
“He was always beaming around them,” she said.
The family was excited about the impending graduation of Arkell’s older daughter, Miller said, and Arkell was beside himself with excitement when she won a scholarship to play lacrosse at the University of Vermont. He had recently taken her to visit the school, according to the police chief.
“He was always very proud of his girls. One of the proudest fathers I’ve ever known,” Roy said. “I still can’t believe it’s over.”