CONCORD, N.H. — A wife tells her husband not to take his ATV into the woods. A Concord lifer avoids the walking trails where she has long exercised. A grandmother worries that her grandchildren are frightened.
One week after the bodies of Djeswende and Stephen L. Reid were found in the woods of New Hampshire’s capital, residents remain nervous — and in the dark. Although the deaths were ruled a homicide last week, little more is known: not a motive, not who found them or when, not even the precise date the couple were slain.
“There’s a bunch of rumors going around town,” said Isaac Guzofski, a server at The Barley House, a pub on North Main Street, “but not a lot of solid information.”
Authorities have said there is no specific danger to the public. But in the absence of hard facts, residents have begun to project their own fears — as well as their paranoias and even prejudices — onto the brutal crime.
Some rattled residents invoked various bogeymen — “illegals,” “transients” — as possible culprits without any evidence.
Facebook users — who appeared to be from Concord and across New England — widely shared a post that listed dozens of bodies found in the Merrimack Valley and surrounding region in recent years. It must have been a serial killer, some amateur sleuths concluded. (A Globe review of the list found that most of the deaths had been attributed to suicide, overdose, or drowning.)
Or were the effects of the pandemic somehow at play? “After COVID, people are doing crazy stuff,” said Mike Serard, who was one year behind Stephen Reid at Concord High School. “Kindness went out the window.”
Here’s the little that is known: On the afternoon of April 18, the Reids left the apartment complex called Alton Woods where they lived on the east side of town, in a neighborhood known as The Heights. It appears they started down the nearby Marsh Loop trail, leaving their phones behind, their son told the Concord Monitor. They never came back.
On the evening of April 21, their bodies were found near the wooded trail, according to information released by the New Hampshire attorney general’s office the next day. Since then, virtually nothing new has been learned, at least by the public — except that the FBI has joined the investigation.
New Hampshire has the lowest murder rate in the country, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Concord itself saw three murders last year, and just seven in the five years prior.
On Thursday, it was sunny and cold on North Main Street, which sits in the shadow of the golden dome adorning the state Capitol.
Lawyer Todd Fahey, leaving his office around lunchtime, said the seeming randomness of the killings had spooked some members of the community. “It’s unnerving insofar as they were just a normal couple going for a walk.”
The Reids — Stephen was 67, Djeswende was 66 — had retired to Concord, Stephen’s hometown, three years ago, according to his family. They had previously lived in Vermont, according to public records, and in West Africa, according to Reid’s high school classmates and news reports. Djeswende, who went by Wendy, was from Burkina Faso, according to their daughter’s corporate bio.
After graduating from Concord High School in 1973, Stephen studied at the University of Notre Dame. The couple met in Washington, D.C., in the late 1970s or early 1980s, when Djeswende was going to college on an athletic scholarship.
In the decades that followed, they dedicated their professional lives to helping the less privileged, relatives said. Stephen worked in international development on projects, many in West Africa, funded by the US government.
It was a career that would not have been possible, the family said, without Djeswende’s “love, care, and support.” According to public records, Djeswende had worked for a nonprofit, the New Hampshire Minority Health Coalition. She had also helped resettle refugees in the United States, according to the family’s statement.
Around town, they were known as “a good family, a good couple,” said Kosmas Smirnioudis, one of the proprietors of The Windmill, a diner in The Heights neighborhood, where, he said, the Reids dined once a month or so.
“Nobody had a bad a thing to say about them,” he said. In the past week, he has overheard his regulars fretting about the crime.
At The Windmill, and across town, people want answers. “I understand the frustration,” Smirnioudis said. But he urged patience. “I’m a strong believer that we need to let the police do their job. We can’t live in fear.”
He added that he feels lucky to a live in a state with permissive gun laws. “I have the right bear arms, to conceal a weapon to protect my family,” he said. “The most important thing is to be prepared.”
For some of Stephen’s oldest friends and acquaintances, the news of his murder came as a double shock. Serard hadn’t realized his old teammate had returned to town after his globetrotting career — until he read the news of the shootings last week, he said. He was “devastated,” his wife, Lisa, said.
Serard and others who went to high school with Stephen remembered him as kind, conscientious, and intelligent. “He tried hard at sports,” said Tom Dillon, another football teammate. “But that wasn’t his strength. His smarts were.” (Stephen graduated from Notre Dame as part of the Phi Beta Kappa honor society, according to the commencement catalog.)
Djeswende seemed like the perfect match. Serard remembers Stephen bringing her to town for the first time in 1983. They came to watch a softball game (Serard played on a team with Stephen’s brother Scott). “She was very kind,” Serard says. “She made a good impression.”
Djeswende and Stephen had two children. Their daughter, Lindsay, followed in her parents’ footsteps into a career in international development, according to her corporate biography and a LinkedIn profile that appears to belong to her.
“This is just a terrible tragedy for our community,” said Dan Andrus, who was chief of the Concord Fire Department for 40 years until his 2019 retirement. “There is a sense of devastation that this really lovely couple could die so violently.”
Hanna Krueger of the Globe staff contributed to this report.
Mike Damiano can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.