Shooting Memorial Set Ablaze in Canaan

  • Ervine Aiken, of Canaan, plants newly made crosses in Canaan, N.H., Thursday, Jan. 11, 2018, along Route 4 near the site where his friend Jesse Champney was shot and killed by a New Hampshire State Police officer as he fled a traffic stop last month. A roadside memorial to Champney was vandalized early Thursday morning. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Shania Butman, 18, right, and her friend Cory Hobbs, 18, both of Canaan, stopped at the memorial to Butman's older brother Jesse Champney to see the damage done by a vandal early Thursday morning, Jan. 11, 2018. "My cousin called me crying because he had to come and put the fires out," said Butman. "Hearing about it this morning made me so mad, I cried." Champney was shot and killed by a New Hampshire State Police officer as he fled a traffic stop in Canaan, N.H., last month. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Enfield, New Hampshire, resident Jesse Champney. (Courtesy photograph)

Valley News Staff Writer
Thursday, January 11, 2018

Canaan — The friends and family of Jesse Champney, the 26-year-old Enfield man who was shot and killed by a state trooper days before Christmas, say they will rebuild a memorial dedicated to him after vandals set fire to it early Thursday morning.

The act left little of the memorial, aside from the charred remains of crosses and mementos left to remember Champney. But relatives said their resolve remains strong.

“It’s not going to work. They’re not going to intimidate us,” said Paul Butman, Champney’s uncle, who was helping to clean the site near the intersection of Route 4 and Switch Road on Thursday.

“We’re not going to let this be forgotten,” he said.

Fred Butman, Champney’s stepfather, also signaled his intention to rebuild.

“Burn it down, blow it up, it isn’t going to stop nothing,” he said while cleaning up debris.

The fire first was spotted around 2:30 a.m. on Thursday by one of Champney’s cousins who was returning home from work in Lebanon, according to Fred Butman.

The cousin stopped and attempted to shovel snow on the flames to prevent the fire from spreading, he said, adding word then quickly spread among family and friends.

Police have yet to comment and haven’t indicated whether there’s an active investigation into the fire.

It’s also not clear whether the Canaan Fire Department or police responded to the scene. Calls to the fire station and Police Chief Sam Frank were not returned on Thursday.

Those helping with Thursday’s cleanup said they found evidence the fire was lit by vandals.

A gas can and a large garbage can were found at the site, said Fred Butman, adding it appears pieces of the memorial and roughly 20 crosses were collected in the garbage can and set ablaze.

Close relatives and friends acted quickly to partially restore the memorial, putting up new crosses that read “Justice for Jesse” and signs saying “We will not be intimidated.”

“To burn somebody’s memorial, I mean that’s just so wrong on so many levels,” said Jennifer Butman, Champney’s aunt who also was at the memorial on Thursday. “It’s just disrespectful to the dead, it’s disrespectful to anybody who put stuff here, to the person who owns the property.”

“He still deserves a memorial,” Jennifer Butman said.

The 22-acre property is owned by Canaan residents Todd and Thomas Hersey, according to assessing records. Messages left for Todd Hersey on Thursday were not returned. However, family members said he has agreed to allow the memorial to stay up until spring.

The memorial was constructed in the field near where the car Champney was driving came to rest after he fled from police during the Dec. 23 traffic stop that resulted in his death. Canaan police have said the car had been reported stolen.

His fiancee, Saeti Tobin, who was in the car with Champney, has said he was shot while trying to run from police, and that they had been returning a borrowed car. Champney was wanted on an outstanding warrant related to a prior heroin arrest in Lebanon.

The New Hampshire Attorney General’s Office is investigating the shooting and has identified State Trooper Christopher O’Toole as the officer who fired the fatal round. Canaan police officer Samuel Provenza also responded to the incident but did not discharge his firearm, according to the state Attorney General’s Office. Neither O’Toole nor Provenza was injured.

Champney was shot four times and Chief Medical Examiner Jennie Duval ruled the death a homicide, meaning “the killing of one person by another.”

Nearly 100 friends and family attended a candlelight vigil for Champney on Dec. 30 at the memorial. They held a moment of silence at 6:27 p.m., the time Champney was shot and killed.

Several of those same people were shocked to see the memorial in ruins on Thursday.

“Whoever tried to get rid of it has only given us an open door to put it up 10 times larger than it was before,” said Phyllis Averine, a friend of Champney’s mother who helped organize the vigil.

Averine said she intended to spend Thursday afternoon building new crosses to replace those that were burned.

Melissa Osmer, a family friend, also said the family wouldn’t be taking the act lightly.

“We’ll make sure there’s another (memorial) to put up,” she said on Thursday morning.

Champney had several run-ins with law enforcement prior to the shooting, including a 2016 arrest in Lebanon on a felony charge of possession of heroin with intent to sell and resisting arrest. He failed to appear for a court date in that case, which prompted a warrant to be issued for his arrest.

Champney also was convicted of several nonviolent crimes, including theft in 2012, which led to a prison sentence.

Family members have said prison changed him and led to an opiate addiction. But he was attempting to turn his life around and had been in a Suboxone program — a medication for treating opioid addiction — for the past few months.

“He had a big heart. He wasn’t a bad kid by any means,” said Ervine Aiken, a family friend who helped clean up the memorial site on Thursday. “He was a good person. He would do anything for anybody.”

Aiken said he intends to help rebuild the memorial, saying it should serve as a “reminder every day” to Champney’s death.

“Especially for the people who want to forget it,” he said.

Tim Camerato can be reached at tcamerato@vnews.com or 603-727-3223.

Clarif ication

Canaan police say Jesse Champney was driving a car that had been reported stolen when he was stopped by police on Dec. 23. His fiancee, Saeti Tobin, has said they were returning a borrowed car.  An earlier version of this story was unclear on the ownership of the car