We sure know how to pick our neighbors. *wince*
Instead of the blog entry I had prepared, talking about the new lifestyle my family has chosen, I’ve written an account of the standoff at our new home. A few different news reports have come out about the events of Sunday, September 3rd (here, here and here), but this was such a surreal experience, I wanted to share how things transpired from my perspective. Fair warning – this is going to be a long entry, full of “tell” not “show,” since it’s an accounting of the events. While I do use some quotes, this is done from memory so needless to say the phrases won’t be exact, but hopefully are in the spirit of what was actually said.
For us, the story began Wednesday, August 31st. For pretty much the entire month since we’d moved in, we’d seen very little of our neighbor to the left, even though our campers were separated by only a few trees and maybe thirty feet. Because it was usually so quiet, it caught my attention when a truck pulled into the site. A couple men got out and talked to the guy in the camper. They were there for some time, at first walking around the site, then they started power-washing the camper, and even spread a big outdoor carpet on the road they hosed off as well. I said to our kidlets, “Maybe it’s some kind of pre-Labor Day ritual we don’t know about as newbie campers.”
Later that afternoon (okay, more like early evening, since it was around 6pm) the eldest and I headed to Market Basket. I texted hubby when we were heading home, and he replied he’d been talking to the neighbor, who said he was moving out and we could have the rest of his fire wood. When we got back, our younger two and Jim (my hubby) were still talking to the neighbor, who introduced himself as Mark. While the kids took the couple of wheelbarrows of wood over to our site, Jim and I chatted with Mark. Turns out we were kind of neighbors for four years on Moulton Street – we were at 11 and he was at 5, which doesn’t sound all that close, but because of the way the road curved, he was only two houses away from ours. In fact, we realized we’d called the fire department on him before when we mistakenly thought his garage was on fire (he was burning leaves in his back yard… oopsies).
He told us he’d been living in the camper for (I think) about a year – he and his ex-wife had been having issues, but they’d been working on them and they’d finally reconciled recently so he sold the camper to a friend of his (one of the men there the day before) for 11K, and was packed up to head home the following day. He chatted about a great deal of things – how he’d been with his wife since they were 14, and had two children and grandchildren together, and he was so happy to be back together. We talked about the hurricane evacuation, and he said he stayed on Moulton Street – his wife had said it would be silly not to, since he was moving back home soon anyway. He said it was such a shame we had to all meet on the last night he was there, and he hoped we’d stop by Moulton Street some time to have a beer around the backyard fire, since we couldn’t around the camp fire. After a fairly long conversation, we said goodnight, goodbye and good luck – he said his friend would be over to haul the camper in the morning, and he had his truck packed and ready to go.
The next morning (Thursday) was hubby’s day off, so after a leisurely morning, I looked out the window and realized the camper was still there. By Friday it still hadn’t moved, and Mark’s truck had come and gone a few times, but I hadn’t seen him out. Knowing it was Labor Day Weekend, I figured maybe the plans had changed because of the holiday. Saturday night, I went out to hubby’s work van to get his forgotten coffee mug, and saw Mark walking through his campsite… to be more accurate, stumbling through. I called to him, and it took him a moment to figure out where I was. I even said, “It’s your neighbor, over here by the van” to help him find his way. When he did, he came crashing through the small bit of woods between our campers, then leaned on the closest pine tree and announced he was too shitfaced to stand straight.
“Thank god for this tree or I’d be on my ass!” he said, by way of hello.
I laughed, and asked him what was up. He said he’d spent all day with the ex, so he needed to drink as much as possible to forget about it. I asked, “So the reconciliation isn’t going well?” and he said something incomprehensible, but it didn’t sound too positive. I asked what was up with the camper, and he said, “Oh my buddy’s coming to get it tomorrow.”
By this time, a couple pulled up on a golf cart. I called out to let them know where we were, since it was dark enough out that they’d have had a hard time seeing him. They came over and we talked for a few more minutes. Mark seemed like he was in bad shape, so I made my excuses, told them to have a nice evening, and headed back into our camper. A short time later, I noticed the three still sitting out at Mark’s picnic table talking, but didn’t notice when they left.
Sunday daytime was uneventful for us – no sign of Mark’s friend again, and his site was quiet. Around 6:30pm, I took a quick shower, and was hoping hubby remembered I’d asked him earlier in the day to pick up ice on his way home – it was super-hot, and the kids had powered through the two bags of ice we’d picked up two days before. My eldest came to the bathroom door to tell me they were home and their friend was with them (son of the couple who inspired us to try camper living). I said if they wanted to be forever traumatized by the sight of a naked old lady running through the camper to get the clothes she’d forgotten in the bedroom, they were welcome to hang around the kitchen table. For some reason, they decided to go back outside instead.
I’d just gotten dressed when my eldest came in again and said the park manager was across the street with the Raymond Police again. There had been some incidents at a nearby site, so that in and of itself wasn’t too surprising. I headed outside to see what was up – I noticed the police cars were parked on the opposite side of the street from Mark’s, not at the site I expected, and there were police moving through the sites and woods back behind those sites. My first thought was, “Great, someone probably robbed the 7Eleven or local bank, and tried to flee by foot through the woods.”
The park manager then walked down the road directly in front of our site and was saying to everyone, “Get in your campers, lock the doors and don’t come out until we say its safe.” I told the kids to quickly get inside – as soon as I said it, I noticed one of the officers grabbing an automatic weapon from his vehicle, and I started to get nervous.
After ushering the kids inside, I turned to lock the camper door, and noticed Mark walking through our site. He was about ten feet away from me, looked very unsteady on his feet, and it seemed like he was trying to get back to his site. I almost opened the door to warn him about the police situation – the words that popped into my head were, “Hey Mark, get in your camper and lock the door – there’s a something going on with the police over there in the woods,” but I hesitated. I knew how drunk he was, and I was afraid it would take too long to get him to understand. I didn’t want to be hanging my head out of my camper chatting while police were concerned enough to openly carry their weapons. I had an even briefer moment thinking I should tell him to come in the camper with us, but I dismissed that idea even faster, because I didn’t want him to be around the kids while in such a state. I finally decided the police and park manager were doing a great job of getting people quickly into their campers and I should let them handle him so, instead of opening the door, I flipped the lock.
The kids were whispering to each other, and their friend, who’d also noticed the gun, said he was going to call his mother. Two seconds later he said she was on his way to get him out. I got him to call her back and told her she couldn’t make it down our road (I heard security saying they were blocking traffic) and talked to her until I saw her headlights coming down the road down the hill from us. She asked if the kids and I wanted to hop in the car with her, and I hesitated as I thought about our animals. I knew Sid (our cat) would be fine, but there was no way I could get Eddie (our dog) him down the hill, even on a good day, and I had visions of canine units running around, looking for the perp, while he freaked out in our camper. But I wanted the kids to be somewhere safe, so I asked if it was alright to send the kids with her, while I stayed with Eddie. She told me essentially I was silly for asking because of course that was fine, although she questioned again if I wanted to come too. I told her I didn’t see this lasting long, so I thought it would be better if I stayed, then I opened the camper door to escort the kids to the hill. A guy from security sitting on his golf cart on the road in front of our camper asked immediately what we were doing. I said I was sending the kids to another site, and he said, “Good idea.” The kids quickly and quietly made their way down the hill. I noticed a couple of kids from the site below us were trying to climb the hill to see what the ruckus was all about, and my friend was telling them, in no uncertain terms, to get in their camper. It took their dad a moment to understand what she meant, but then he yelled at the kids to come back, and after a little arguing, they finally did.
I went back in the camper, locked the door, unplugged the nightlight in our bedroom, and peeked through my curtain. I opened the window a bit to see if I could hear anything, then quietly called hubby to fill him in. He said he was done with work, and was at the office cleaning out his truck. I warned him he wouldn’t be able to make it home, so to take his time and hang out there until I let him know the coast was clear. I also said I’d update him by text message, same as I was doing with our friend, so I could keep an ear out. I was in the camper for about 15 or 20 minutes, and I was catching stray phrases like “daughter reported he might have a gun” and “threatened” and “the demand”. Then I started thinking there might be a domestic issue in the campers across from us – everyone over in those sites seemed really nice, but it didn’t mean some relative didn’t come to visit and have a breakdown (yes, I spent a lot of time letting my imagine go crazy, trying to figure this out).
By this time, a couple of officers were standing over by their cars, and I was having a hard time seeing them from my bedroom window. I quietly moved into the living room and sat on my couch. I opened the window and lifted the shade to see if I could catch any more info. After a couple of minutes, I heard one officer call across the street, “Hey Mark buddy, why don’t you come out and talk to us so we can work this out?” I had one of those everything-moves-in-slow-motion moments as I looked to my left and saw, about 30 feet away, my neighbor Mark standing at the door of his trailer. He was yelling back to the cops he wasn’t doing anything until all the cop cars got out of there (I’m paraphrasing and leaving out the profanity). As the realization sunk in that the guy with the suspected gun was so close, and completely incapable of walking straight, let alone taking a straight shot, I was suddenly terrified.
I immediately called Jim, burst into tears, and whispered over the phone it was Mark who was “the situation.” Jim said he’d come home from work anyway, and was up at the camp playground (the established evacuation point), standing near the park manager. He then said to her, in a calm voice that somehow still conveyed his panic, “My wife is still in our camper.” I heard the park manager exclaim, “What? The police said everyone was evacuated. Hang on – I’m getting her out of there now!” Jim said, “It’s okay hon – she’s contacting the police down there, and they’ll come get you”. We talked for about a half minute – long enough for him to help me calm down and focus, then we said our usual, “Love you,” and hung up.
I peeked out the window to see if the police were walking up to the door, and I saw one officer taking cover behind our SUV, and another one walking around the side of our camper, towards Mark’s. Both were carrying big, black, automatic weapons. I kept reminding myself to breathe, and to not panic that it looked like they were using our car and camper as shields, because it was obvious they didn’t know I was in there. I put Sid in our bedroom and closed the door, after giving him a couple of kitty treats and an extra chin scratch. I got Eddie’s leash on, told him not to worry, and crouched down on the floor to wait.
In a minute that felt like an hour, I saw those two same officers, plus another, walk up to the camper door. One knocked and said, “Ma’am, you need to come with us.” I opened the door and said something ridiculous like, “No argument from me” through my hiccupy tears, and I quickly walked out with Eddie in tow.
The officers formed kind of a wall behind me, and walked me a short distance down the road. Then one said, “We need you to follow this road to the evacuation area. Walk quickly and don’t look back”. Fresh out of lame comebacks, I nodded, pulled Eddie along (he was desperate to relieve himself, but I didn’t want to take a chance), and walked down the road.
When I felt I was a safe distance, I let Eddie pee, then headed towards the playground. At an intersection, I saw a few security golf carts pull up next to each other and stop, so they could compare notes on what areas had been evacuated. I piped up with, “I was in the camper right next to Mark, and no one evacuated me until I called my husband” and I swear I saw faces turn white. Someone said something to the effect of, “let’s go through systematically again and make sure everyone in the area is out” as I was walking away. All I could think was how happy I was not to be in their shoes at the moment.
As I was walking towards the playground through the dusky light, I saw someone approaching me, carrying what looked like a bag of ice in one hand. I laughed and thought, “Of all days to remember to pick it up” and I walked even faster towards him. He hugged me for pretty close to forever, and whispered something that made me cry and smile at the same time (I’ll be dipped if I can remember now what it was). I noted the bag of ice in his hand, and he said, “There’s another one in my lunch box.” I laughed through my tears, and said I’d try to fit them both in, if he’d unlock his truck. I busied myself with the welcome distraction, while he filled me in on how the kids were doing while hanging out with our friends in the “safe” part of camp.
Eddie was staying calm, despite the excitement. We stood near the Comcast van for a few, listening to security as they talked back and forth to each other and the police, but it didn’t sound like much had changed, other than they were able to evacuate everyone possible, and were able to assist someone getting back to their campsite (not in the danger zone, but from what I could tell, there was a small part of the road on the way to their site in the danger zone) who needed to be on their oxygen tank since their portable was running out of battery life. I heard many of the campers near me grumbling about their meals still sitting on their grills or tables and how frustrated they were with having to wait. I knew we were lucky our three kidlets were able to be at their friends, but I was hopeful that if they had been there with us, we wouldn’t also be griping about the wait. I knew there was no way to rush things when someone is homicidal/suicidal, and I would hope the perspective that a man’s life was at stake would keep the grumbling to a minimum from all of us. Granted, there were a few around us who said, “The hell with my dinner, I’d rather not get shot, thank you very much,” but the complainers sang a much louder song.
We were at the playground with many of the evacuees for about five hours – during that time, some of the families left to go to the dance at the Pavilion (I figure management wisely didn’t call it off, because it was in the safe section of the campground and it provided a necessary distraction) or to another safe area where they were providing free hot dogs and hamburgers to all the families displaced by the crisis. We were told once we moved, we needed to stay put where we were, and I got the feeling they would rather we didn’t move at all if we didn’t need to, as long as we were out of the way . We stayed at the playground for a number of reasons – we didn’t want to add to the confusion of people moving from place to place; the biggest whiners were heading to those two places; and Eddie seemed pretty well tired out from all the excitement. I also had this irrational desire to rush back to the camper at the first possible second to make sure Sid was okay (which, needless to say, I didn’t vocalize at the time). So, as boring as it was to sit in the dark with the mosquitoes and occasional flashes of lightning, we knew since the kids were safe, we were better off for all concerned staying put. We ended up being in some great company – neighbors we hadn’t had chance to meet were sitting in the dark with us. One woman had been celebrating her birthday, and we ended up carrying the chairs and cooler from her site to the area behind the orange cones so we could all wait in some comfort.
We compared stories of what we knew about Mark, things we were finding out online and chatting in general to pass the time. I heard Mark had been drinking heavily all day, and at some point changed from his usual “mellow Mark” persona to a belligerent, angry man who threatened a number of people with a knife, and dared them to start something with him. He told more than one person he was going to kill them, and he allegedly had a gun either in his camper or his truck. There was also some talk he’d said something about wanting to commit “suicide by cop.” I had the sinking feeling this situation would not end well. In fact, I got a really bad juju feeling at one point – I was texting my friend, keeping tabs on our kidlets, so I know the time was 9:20pm, and it just seemed to her and I both like something really bad was about to happen.
We had a front row seat as police cars came and went, and the Southern New Hampshire SWAT team arrived. We heard a few scattered things from security, but they didn’t have much more information than we did, and were stuck between the police in charge, and the campers who, for the most part, were in Labor Day party mode and pretty well pissed off their fun had been interrupted. At one point we heard there was a minor riot over at the beach near the Pavilion – one of the campers was so angry (and drunk) he went after one of the camp employees, as if it were their fault Mark was having a breakdown.
By around midnight, it didn’t sound like this standoff wouldn’t end any time soon, and the bad juju feeling was long gone. Our friends said they had put mattresses and blankets in their tent and we were welcome to crash at their site for the night, dog and all. Since things seemed to be fairly quiet, I went up to one of the security guards and asked if it were okay for us to head to a site in the safe zone, and if so, could he give us a ride in his golf cart. He very kindly said, “Sure, hop on in,” so Jim, Eddie and I got a lift through the dark and quiet campground.
We arrived at our friend’s site, and they kindly had pizza and garlic bread ready for us to munch on. As we scarfed down a few pieces, we each took turns filling everyone in on what had happened during the ordeal. Knowing it was late, and knowing it had already been a long night, we turned in fairly soon after we arrived (after one last trek out to find some medicine for a kidlet headache – our friends were all out, but in no time flat, we’d found someone from security who had some stuff and was more than happy to help us out). Eddie was a bit distressed to begin with, but as soon as the kids snuggled him, he got comfortable and fell asleep.
We had just quieted down (a little after 1am) when our friend came out of the camper and said quietly, “I don’t think you’re asleep yet, are you?” We said, “Nope, what’s up?” She said she’d gotten a call from someone who had a site near ours, and they were being allowed back. The police ultimately used tear gas to end the standoff, and the report was Mark was being booked, and then brought to the hospital for evaluation. While we were very appreciative of the hospitality shown to us by our friends, we decided to walk back to our site – she offered to drive us, but since we weren’t sure if the roads were still blocked, or crazy busy, we decided to hoof it.
There was a light, misty rain as we made our way back through the eerily quiet campground. Given the time, the craziness of the day, and now the weather, I expected everyone to be silent and borderline grumpy on our trek – instead, we had an almost magical time winding our way through the dark paths, stopping briefly on the shore of the river to admire the gorgeous night sky.
When we got back to our camper, I was amazed by how normal everything appeared – there was virtually no sign anything had happened. Sid was very happy to see us, and I found he’d made a bit of a nesting spot in the pillows of our bed, but he didn’t seem too freaked out or stressed. Our fridge has propane backup, so the hours when the power was cut didn’t affect our food. We all tried to settle in – however, the walk gave us a second wind, so it was almost 4am before we all managed to get to sleep.
When we woke up early the next afternoon, there seemed to be a parade of vehicles going past our site – everyone wanted to check out where it happened, and compare notes. Hubby and I were sitting on the couch, drinking coffee and trying to convince ourselves we were awake, when we noticed someone was digging through stuff in Mark’s truck. My first thought was, he’d sent a friend by to get things he needed, but the guy almost looked like Mark from behind. Jim and I agreed there was no way at 2:30pm the next day he’d be free to be roaming around, so I decided to call the main office. It went straight to voicemail so I left a brief message saying someone was going through Mark’s truck, and was now heading inside the camper. After I hung up, I heard Jim and the eldest saying, “Oh my god – it is Mark!” We figured the police must have driven him over, so we went outside to see – no sign of any police, but there were a few golf carts parked by the side of the road down by the bath house. We walked over to see what was up. One person said they saw a taxi arrive and drop Mark off, and we all tried to wrap our brains around the fact he was already back, and figure out how the hell he’d managed to be free so soon.
After only a couple of minutes of speculation, the police and park manager arrived. Jim, the eldest and I started to walk back up to where they were. I called over to the manager something along the lines of, “So, never mind about the message I left you since you obviously already know” and she nodded. A detective walked over to us and asked if we’d seen Mark. I gave him a brief rundown of what we saw, and he thanked us and asked us to please clear the street. I went back in the camper (ostensibly to listen at the window), but hubby and daughter hung out at a respectful distance next to our car.
I heard the detective explaining to Mark there was a restraining order on him, prohibiting him from being on camp property. I heard Mark reply, “but I got no place else to go” and I realized he somehow thought he was just going to pick up where he left off. I was shocked and a little sad that he didn’t seem to grasp how serious this was. Mark also said something about having blacked out, and claimed he couldn’t remember the night’s events. I later found out he still had the IV plug in his arm from his very brief hospital stay. The manager and police quickly took control – the detective called the ex-wife to see of Mark could stay with her temporarily, and someone on security drove their personal vehicle over to tow the camper to the public parking lot so Mark could arrange to have someone pick it up the next day. That only left Mark’s truck – because it had a breathalyzer lock, it was decided Mark would have someone pick it up the next day as well (I believe the manager told him something about needing to let them know a time frame). In relative short order, the police said they’d give Mark a ride and escorted him to the cruiser while security hitched the camper and drove it out. Sure enough, the very next day a man arrived and drove off in Mark’s truck, and I noticed the camper was gone from the parking lot soon thereafter.
In discussions with many people over the next few days, I got the impression Mark was able to go free because after he’d been booked on charges and posted bail, he checked into a hospital for observation – however, and I’m not sure on the specifics, there’s something about New Hampshire being a voluntary commitment state, so any time he wanted to check out, he could. If anyone out there has any further insight on how he could be out of custody so soon, please feel free to either comment below or send me an email.
From my perspective, the reason this story didn’t end with a gunshot is due to the way law enforcement and camp staffers handled everything. I’ve heard the griping about how it shouldn’t have taken that many people that long to get one drunk and despondent guy out of his camper. While I can understand the viewpoint (and I admit I wondered if too many I’s and T’s were being dotted and crossed), I think second-guessing and Monday morning quarterbacking leads to nothing but hard feelings among those affected by this – especially the people who deliberately put themselves in harm’s way to make sure all the campers (including Mark) were still around to enjoy Labor Day. I know it might seem counterintuitive for this self-proclaimed Libertarian to appreciate and defend the large police response to this small-ish incident, but after seeing how unruly some of the campers became, and how difficult it was to maintain the safe zone perimeter, I don’t think the number of officers was at all unreasonable. Yes, there is something to be said for the “if people are dumb enough to try to sneak back to their campers, they deserve what they get” school of thought, but I can’t help picturing a scenario where an officer gets distracted by a drunken camper desperate to get back to his steak before it dries out on the grill, and the ensuing commotion causes Mark to wildly fire at noise, killing the officer and camper in the process (did I mention we sat in the dark for a long time and I had plenty of time to speculate?).
So, to make a long story short (yeah, yeah – I know), while this experience had all the potential for disaster, thanks to the efforts of those in charge, tragedy was averted. I only wish everyone would take a moment, and try to see the events from a different perspective… maybe put themselves in the shoes of the desperate man who feels he’s out of options; of the park manager risking her life trying to protect families from danger while getting screamed at and blamed for the whole situation; of the daughter, grandchild, or former partner of a man who may die at any moment, listening to people calling for him to “shoot himself already so we can get back to our campsites”; of the parents of young kids abruptly ushered off their vacation site and told to please stay put indefinitely; of the security guard who signed up for a summer job at a family resort, now having to put themselves in harm’s way to evacuate people who, in some cases, are verbally abusive and worse; of the police who have a procedure to follow and skipping steps could mean someone dying. Then next time you see the harried mother of young children in the grocery store losing her cool, or the guy flipping you the finger as he passes you on the highway, or the alleged murderer waiting on death row – maybe you’ll see things in a whole new light.