EXETER, N.H. — Under an American flag held high by two ladder trucks, through a hushed crowd of mourners, police officers from across New England marched down the road, a ribbon of blue.
In a vast display of solidarity, they came by the thousands to pay tribute to Stephen Arkell, a Brentwood, N.H., police officer killed in the line of duty last week. Arkell, who was ambushed while responding to what appeared to be a routine domestic dispute, was remembered as a devoted family man and quintessential small-town officer, a “common man with uncommon values.”
“His is a classic small-town New Hampshire story,” Maggie Hassan, New Hampshire’s governor, said of Arkell, who also worked as a carpenter and coached lacrosse. “He was a true Granite State hero, and a pillar of his community.”
Arkell, 48, was killed May 12 when he responded to a heated argument between Michael Nolan, 47, and his elderly father, Walter. Authorities say Michael Nolan shot Arkell several times immediately after Arkell entered the home. Nolan later shot at a second officer before the house caught fire and exploded. The officer escaped the gunfire.
“He gave his life so his fellow citizens could live theirs in peace,” Hassan said to thousands of mourners at Wednesday’s memorial service, held at Exeter High School. Arkell was known to all, she said, as a “kind and caring soul.”
New Hampshire State Police Colonel Robert Quinn said Arkell, a part-time officer who had worked in his hometown department for 15 years, responded to the fatal call with the sense of duty that guided his life.
“He could have waited for help, but he went into the house alone,” he said. “He sacrificed his tomorrow so we could have ours.”
“There was nothing that anyone could do,” he said to Arkell’s fellow Brentwood officers.
Authorities say it is not clear what motivated Nolan’s rampage, and said Walter Nolan, 86, cannot recall what happened before the shootings. Neighbors say Michael Nolan was a reclusive figure who was abusive toward his father.
Authorities said this week that Nolan had set multiple fires in the house, and that his bullets pierced gas pipes in the basement, causing the explosion. Michael Nolan’s remains were found in the rubble of his garage.
Brentwood Police Chief Wayne Robinson said Arkell died “doing what he loved and did his best — helping the people of Brentwood.”
Speaking to Arkell’s wife and two teenage daughters, Robinson said he and his officers would always be there for them.
“We are going to be here, if you need anything. You can call us,” he said. “You are not alone out here.”
A fund set up for the family at www.stevearkell.com has raised $30,000.
In a touching remembrance, David Roy, a Brentwood police lieutenant, said he had known Arkell since childhood. He recalled Arkell as a natural police officer, a peacemaker who loved his town and could see the good in everyone.
“Steve had a gift. He could calm people,” he said. “He was eager to help others work through their problems and restore peace. It was about taking care of his fellow man and his community.”
Arkell was a devoted family man, Roy and others said, whose life revolved around his wife and two daughters.
“The love Steve had for his family was a beautiful thing to witness,” Roy said. “We are so sorry,” he told the Arkells, his voice strained with emotion.
When his daughter expressed interest in playing lacrosse, Arkell threw himself into the sport, eventually becoming a youth and high school coach.
He coached with “humor and passion,” Hassan said. Through his coaching, Arkell had helped mentor a generation of local athletes, mourners said.
The town’s animal control officer, Arkell was a regular at the town’s country store, where he would buy cat food for rescued strays.
As a carpenter, Arkell had a reputation for honesty, and would often talk customers into smaller, less expensive projects, Quinn said. He savored a job well done, many said.
At the end of the service, the crowd stood silent as the casket was carried away. Bagpipes began to play, and rows of officers held their salutes. Standing by herself at the edge of the service, a woman began to weep.