The Hippo


May 26, 2020








Meet Richard Adams Carey

Where: Nashua Public Library, 2 Court St., Nashua
When: Thursday, March 10, at 7 p.m.
Contact the library:,, 589-4610
Contact him:

Behind the Colebrook shootings
Richard Adams Carey on writing In the Evil Day

By Kelly Sennott

 Richard Adams Carey was driving home from his day job, listening to the radio when he first heard about the 1997 Colebrook shootings. 

It was Aug. 19, and Columbia resident Carl Drega had opened fire with an AR-15 assault rifle, first at a couple of troopers, then at a selectman and newspaper editor. He wounded three other law enforcement officers before being shot to death in a fight with police in the Vermont woods, where he’d fled after the initial incident. 
“Like everybody else in New Hampshire, I was basically astonished,” said Carey, who lives in Sandwich and teaches writing at Southern New Hampshire University. “It was in this peaceful, bucolic landscape where it seemed implausible that something like this could happen.”
Carey is best known for his nonfiction writing, especially Against the Tide: The Fate of the New England Fisherman. In 2000, when he was “beating bushes” for the next idea, he came back to this incident. At that point, the Columbine shootings had happened too.
“I began to see this was a pattern that was going to develop,” Carey said. “Now murderers were using weapons where it was possible to kill a whole lot of people at once in a public place. I anticipated many more Colebrooks and Columbines.”
But there was also something different about the Colebrook incident. It had plot, rising tension and a kind of perverse logic.
“There was a long, simmering build-up, and a cast of dynamic and charismatic characters. And the story itself, even as you read it in the newspapers, it had a kind of novelistic arc,” Carey said.
His first move was to write to the immediate families of the four murder victims. He admits now he didn’t think enough into it.
“If my spouse had been murdered, and some writer I didn’t know came out of the blue and wanted to do a book about that, I would probably react very negatively. Three of the four families did gently but firmly tell me to go away,” Carey said.
The exception: Earl and Irene Bunnell, parents of Vickie Bunnell, the 45-year-old lawyer and part-time judge whose murder garnered the most attention.
“Earl was a voracious reader, someone who loved books, and loved the good that books can do in their best form. He had always been a little bit bothered that among the victims, Vickie had always been placed center stage,” Carey said. 
It wasn’t an outright yes, but the couple was at least willing to talk with Carey and get to know him before making a decision. In 2003, they gave their consent. Their one stipulation: that Carey would give equal weight to all the victims. 
“They had a whole lot of social capital in Colebrook because of how bravely and how selflessly they had responded to this incident, and when they gave their OK … there were a whole lot of people who certainly would not have spoken previously who said, ‘Sure, let’s talk,’” Carey said.
Researching and writing In the Evil Day: Violence Comes to One Small Town, which was released this fall, took years. Carey read about 3,000 pages of police reports and conducted something like 300 interviews, none of which were easy. Even after all that time, grief and anger ran close to the surface. People often broke down in tears. But it was helpful Carey was not a North Country insider; people could speak more frankly with him, and he promised to do something not all journalists do — he sent drafts to his interviewees, so they could fact-check and make certain they were comfortable with their information going public.
“I wanted to protect them,” Carey said. “But what really surprised me. … I was hardly ever asked to edit something out.”
Carey had been afraid of what he might find — mostly, instances of cowardice or self-preservation.
“What do we do when, suddenly, we find ourselves in the midst of an ordinary day, and also in the midst of a killing zone, where colleagues are being gunned down before our eyes? How do we react?” Carey said. 
But what he found was grace and courage. Also notorious was The News and Sentinel, Colebrook’s weekly where the killings occurred. Editor Dennis Joos had died unarmed, trying to wrestle the rifle from Drega, and when publisher John Harrigan arrived at the office after an out-of-town visit, he decided not to take the day off but to go to press — despite that there were still bodies in the vicinity, including his former girlfriend’s. Their work was shortlisted for the Pulitzer Prize.
Carey said he hopes the book showcases the community as one of immense human spirit, warmth and great civic and social vitality.
“I wanted to provide a portrait of the North Country that outshone the shadow cast by this incident,” Carey said. 

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