GREENLAND, N.H. - Caren Chick lives in a quintessential pocket of this rural town, the kind of place that could only exist in a town like Greenland.
Her whitewashed wood house abuts a barn, converted into an antique shop, where smoke wafts out of a wood-burning stove. She and her husband grow strawberries and plan to start raising chickens. Deer and wild turkeys roam their backyard.
It is almost clichéd, she admits.
“It’s exactly like what you would imagine,’’ said Chick, 55. “It’s a country way of life.’’
That sense of comfort ended abruptly at 6 p.m. Thursday, when Chick and her husband heard police cars and ambulances racing down their street, sirens blaring.
Minutes later, they learned that the town’s beloved police chief, Michael Maloney, had been fatally shot and that four officers were wounded.
And this town of 3,500 just outside of Portsmouth - described as equal parts tightknit, quirky, and picturesque - became the backdrop to one of the most shocking police shootings in New Hampshire history.
“This has really disrupted the small-town feel,’’ Chick said. “We all feel nervous and anxious. I hope it doesn’t change the typical way of life around here.’’
Sean Fogarty, 23, an employee at Me & Ollies Cafe a few blocks away from Town Hall, summarized the situation glumly: “I just don’t expect someone to have automatic weapons in Greenland.’’
Still, the town’s ways of coping and grieving have proven distinctly its own.
Before the shooting made the news, phone lines were abuzz with residents calling one another to lock their doors or retreat to the basement.
And as people awoke Friday morning, messages of compassion were cropping up around town on signs, easily spotted from the few main roads.
“Thoughts, prayers for our police,’’ read the message outside Country View Restaurant. The sign at Hunkins Real Estate read, “Salute to Chief Mike Maloney,’’ and on the other side, “Honk for Chief and wounded officers.’’ And at the Community Congregational Church, the message was clear: “God is still speaking. The Maloney family is in our prayers.’’
Along with the pile of roses and carnations growing at Town Hall, several residents living on the road leading to the site of the shooting placed bouquets at the base of their driveways.
“Greenland has a small-town feel that is different from other New Hampshire small towns,’’ said the Rev. Robert Fellows of Community Congregational Church, just a mile from the site of the shooting. For that reason, he said, “the loss feels like a very personal loss, like a loss of a member of the family.’’
There’s a certain routine to living in Greenland: Residents wave at passing cars, say hi to everyone in the town’s Post Office, and get their fix of gossip at the Suds ‘N Soda grocery, Chick said.
At church, Fellows said, breakfasts are made with eggs from parishioners’ chickens, and the same pies are baked each year with secret recipes.
Mahoney, who had the town’s trust, was an important part of the community’s everyone-knows-everyone feel. Parishioners who came to Fellows with troubling secrets seldom hesitated when the clergyman suggested involving Mahoney.
“It was straight out of a Norman Rockwell painting,’’ he said.
But Greenland is also a place where things are changing, Fellows said. Unlike other small towns where younger adults flee to the big city, leaving behind an aging population, Greenland is experiencing an influx of young people attracted to its charm, accessible location, and relatively low property prices.
That has left some residents concerned about the growing gap between “old Greenland’’ and “new Greenland.’’
“There are times when some of the older people in Greenland say, ‘I don’t know every one of the people on my street anymore,’ ’’ Fellows said.
Marie Hussey, a resident of the town for more than 30 years, said she worried that Thursday’s events would cause some to question their feelings of safety in the community.
But, she advised, you can’t live your life in fear of your neighbors. “This isn’t a reflection of our community,’’ Hussey said. “This isn’t who we are.’’Martine Powers can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @martinepowers.