RUTLAND, Vt. — The bullets arrived before the dawn, announcing themselves with a loud crack that said this wasn’t some crank in a pickup popping off a couple of drunken, random rounds with a .22.
That sound and the holes in the thick glass door at the Rutland Police Department told the officers inside that whoever fired those shots was wielding a high-powered rifle.
Investigators quickly reviewed video from a security camera, zeroed in on a license plate, and thought they knew who they were looking for when, an hour and a half later, they spotted the white Ford Focus parked near the Walmart in a nearly deserted nearby shopping plaza.
But the driver wasn’t who they thought it would be.
It was Chris Louras, the 33-year-old son of the city’s former longtime mayor.
The cops gave chase, but not for long. Louras stopped his car on the tracks at the nearby Amtrak station and came out firing with a Smith & Wesson M&P15 rifle.
If this was what it seemed, a desperate attempt at suicide by cop, Louras appeared determined to take some cops with him.
By this time, four police officers, one of them armed with a rifle, had converged on him. After Louras fired a barrage at them, witnesses said, the officers returned fire. One of the shots hit Louras in the head, and he fell heavily.
Hours later, even as police here scrambled to figure out what had just happened, a passerby spotted the body of a young man on the side of a country road in Salisbury, a rural town about 25 miles north of Rutland.
It was Nick Louras, Chris’s 34-year-old cousin and the nephew of the current mayor, Dave Allaire.
While the investigation is ongoing, investigators are working on the theory that Chris Louras shot his cousin sometime in the early morning hours, drove into Rutland, fired into the police station, then drove around aimlessly, waiting for the inevitable.
At first blush, it made no sense. Two young men, cousins, as privileged and connected as you can be in a place this size, dead within hours and 25 miles of each other. But this is a small place that has experienced big problems at that intersection of drugs and madness, and many people intuitively knew this was that intersection.
With the gunfire over and the shooter dead, Brian Kilcullen, the city’s police chief, was trying to seal off the crime scene that his own station had become, and to reassure his officers and the civilians who arrived that morning to bullet holes and controlled chaos when his phone buzzed.
It was a text, from Christopher Louras, the former mayor.
Kilcullen steeled himself, then read it, with rising gratitude and not a little amazement.
It contained condolences and comforting words for the police officers who had just shot his son to death.
“That set the tone, right there,” Kilcullen told me, sitting in the station that, a month later, shows no outward signs of that horrible, chaotic morning. “To have someone, in the midst of his grief and this utter devastation in his own family, reach out and ask about the welfare of our officers. That kind of says it all.”
Two weeks later, the Louras family released a statement.
“We feel thankful and blessed with good friends and a strong community, which is more evident than ever,” it read. “We are eternally grateful for the love and compassion people have shown, from friends and neighbors, and from members of the Rutland City Police Department.”
Mayor Allaire, whose wife is the sister of Nick Louras’s mother, also thanked the police and residents for being kind to his family.
The murder of Nick Louras, the police shooting of Chris Louras, the known and especially the unknown, had the potential to tear this small city apart. Instead, it all has become a grim reminder to the 16,000 people who live here that no one, no family, is immune to the epidemic of opiates and mental health crises that have haunted and harmed Rutland and its residents for a generation.
Rolling in on Route 4 from Killington, or heading south out of town on Route 7, you quickly appreciate the beauty that surrounds Rutland. Mountains ring the city like a warm blanket. But the beautiful scenery cloaks a darker reality. Route 7 is one of the most picturesque in Vermont, but it also provides heroin dealers in New York and Massachusetts direct access to the area.
Chris Louras fell dead next to the train station that is another popular destination for heroin dealers from New York, who can sell their poison for even more here than in the five boroughs and beyond.
The violent deaths of the Louras cousins has shaken this city in particular because there has been progress made in the Sisyphean task of combating the scourge of addiction and its accompanying crime and decay, especially in the city’s Northwest neighborhood.
Seven years ago, the police and various social service agencies joined forces to create Project Vision, a recognition that law enforcement wasn’t enough, that the city couldn’t prosecute its way out of the urban and human decay wrought by addiction. The collaborative, coordinated approach has borne fruit. Burglaries and thefts are down, some of the quality of life issues — noise, disorderly conduct, loitering — have improved on some of the blighted blocks in the Northwest.
But as the murder of Nick Louras and the shooting of his cousin have underscored, the problems here and in many parts of Vermont are deeply rooted; police and social workers are engaged in a marathon, not a sprint.
Joe Kraus, the chairman of Project Vision, came here in 1980 and never left. He said the shootings were a punch in the gut and a wake-up call.
“There was a time in America when you thought things like this only happen to ‘those’ sort of people, not to people like us, not to people from good, solid families,” he said. “The truth is, it’s everywhere.”
The Louras cousins went to private schools and were standout hockey players. Like his cousin, Nick Louras attended Mount Saint Joseph Academy, a prep school here, and went on to graduate from Cushing Academy in Massachusetts. He was an honor roll student at the State University of New York Morrisville.
Chris Louras had no criminal record, but in discussing the tragedy here, various officials have spoken vaguely about how mental illness was, beyond heroin, a component to all that happened.
“The tragedy was inexplicable,” Kraus said, “but the important thing is how the community responded. People were shocked, saddened, and had questions, about everything. But they were compassionate. Some of those cops were the same age group as Nick and Chris. They probably knew each other, from school or sports or whatever. You see these remarkable acts of kindness and love and compassion that offset the feeling of loss.”
Kilcullen, the police chief, said that in the days following the shootings, several of his officers reported back to him that during their breaks, when they got to the front of the line in any number of the city’s cafes, someone had already paid for their coffee.
“On that first day, a real long day for us, some ordinary citizen just showed up with pizza for us,” Kilcullen said. “People brought us food every day, for weeks.”
Still, the chief worries about his officers as they process the reality of having taken someone’s life.
Christopher Louras was a popular mayor for 10 years. Then he vowed to resettle Syrian refugees in the city, a noble if not entirely explained idea, and there was a popular uprising against the idea, and eventually against him. Allaire cruised to victory two years ago.
The current mayor declined to talk to me. I left messages for the former mayor, but haven’t heard from him. One of the former mayor’s relatives told me things are still very raw.
Last week, Rutland Police Commander Matt Prouty, the executive director at Project Vision, stood on the top floor of the police station, checking in with the cops and social workers who are his grunts, the soldiers in what is and remains a block-by-block war on opiates and all the ruinous byproducts.
Prouty is an old soldier who is not that old, still part of the US Army. He earned his spurs as a member of the Cavalry Division, the cavalry that in the movies rides to the rescue. He wishes it was that simple here, the cavalry riding into town. But it’s so much more complicated. Prouty was out there last month when the shooting started, has been on the front lines of Rutland’s existential war for years, and is quite familiar with the most dangerous intersection in town.
It’s the one where addiction and mental illness meet.
“We’ve got a lot more work to do,” Matt Prouty said.
He went back into his office and turned on the light.