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Jim Kenyon: Mother’s Day an anniversary without answers for Claremont homicide

  • Jim Kenyon. Copyright (c) Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.



Valley News Columnist
Saturday, May 11, 2019

Sometime on Mother’s Day or the day after, Cheryl Cucchiara will return to the scene of the crime. As she usually does on her visits, Cucchiara will say a prayer and leave fresh flowers at the far end of the Imperial Buffet and Lounge’s parking lot in Claremont.

But on this visit, she also plans to put up a sign that she recently had made: “One Year Later, Still No Justice For Jesse.”

Just like the flowers that she leaves during her trips from her home in Fitchburg, Mass., Cucchiara doesn’t expect the sign to remain up for long. Some people don’t want to be reminded of what happened here or see her son’s memory honored in any way.

Shortly after midnight last May 13 — Mother’s Day — Jesse Jarvis was shot multiple times in the large parking lot the Imperial shares with a shuttered business on Washington Street, Claremont’s main commercial strip.

Jarvis, 36, died at the scene. In the year since, no arrests have been made in the case that’s being handled by New Hampshire State Police.

“It just doesn’t seem to be a top priority,” Cucchiara said.

The New Hampshire Attorney General’s Office, which is overseeing the state police investigation, has said it’s been a challenging case because some witnesses to the shooting have been unwilling to talk.

Whether that’s because of her son’s reputation is tough to say. It’s been widely reported in recent years that Jarvis was a founder of a New Hampshire-based white supremacist prison gang called the Brotherhood of White Warriors.

Cucchiara, 59, has heard the rumor that her son was killed during a dispute with a notorious motorcycle gang. She’s well aware that her son was no choirboy.

“Drinking was his downfall,” she told me.

Jarvis, who worked as a painter and roofer, spent much of his adult life in and out of prison. At 18, he was arrested for shoplifting, resisting arrest and attempting to escape from a hospital, where he was being treated for acute intoxication. In 2009, he was sentenced to three years in prison for firing a shotgun into an occupied vehicle and getting into a high-speed chase with police.

“A lot of people say he was a bad human being and deserved what happened,” Cucchiara said.

She tries to focus on the stories that friends and family told at his memorial service about the “good things he did.”

Cucchiara recalled a young woman whom her son had grown up with in Claremont. After learning the woman was struggling to escape an abusive relationship, Jarvis intervened. He went to the couple’s home and ushered her male partner outside, suggesting that he might find a new place to live.

“Jesse sat in his car all night to make sure the guy didn’t come back,” Cucchiara said.

She acknowledges that her son had “his beliefs,” about race and American society, but still cringes when the media is “always bringing up that he was white supremacist.”

It certainly wasn’t the way he was brought up, she said. But prison can change a person. Cucchiara wonders what it did to her son. From what I’ve read, Jarvis encountered violence inside and outside prison that wasn’t always of his own making.

In the summer of 2008, a 16-member New Hampshire regional SWAT team surrounded the Charlestown home of Tony Jarvis, Jesse’s dad and Cucchiara’s ex-husband. Tony Jarvis’ past included a criminal record, but he was respected in the Claremont community for his work with troubled youths.

The SWAT team had descended upon Charlestown to arrest Jesse Jarvis, who was wanted for allegedly stealing a Nazi flag and resisting arrest. He surrendered, but his father got into a standoff with police. Before the night ended, Tony Jarvis was shot and killed by a state trooper, who himself was wounded.

The AG’s office ruled the use of deadly force was justified, but the incident raised lingering questions about how and when SWAT teams are deployed.

I’ve written before that some cops may see Jesse Jarvis’ death as a “misdemeanor murder,” slang for the slaying of a less-than-sympathetic victim. A founder of a white supremacist prison gang may not deserve to be celebrated, but what does it say if we let this shooting go unsolved? At the very least, doesn’t his mother deserve to know what happened?

After her son’s homicide, Cucchiara was assigned a victim advocate from the AG’s office. Cucchiara, who remarried nine years ago, emails the advocate from time to time to ask about any progress in the investigation.

“At this point, I do not have an update, but we have not forgotten what happened to Jesse and in turn, your family,” the victim advocate wrote in a January email that Cucchiara shared with me. “We are still working to completely understand how everything unfolded that night and when I can share more I will.”

In an April 23 email, the victim advocate wrote, “We know and believe that your son did not deserve to die. The attorneys and investigators know you need answers. As soon as they have finished following the evidence and comparing and matching it to the law, they will be able to make a decision and share next steps.”

Cucchiara tries not to lose patience with the pace of the investigation and lack of closure. She keeps busy with volunteer work. When I called her a few days ago, she and her husband, Dan, a retired house painter, were about to go grocery shopping for the Knights of Columbus’ annual Mother’s Day breakfast in Fitchburg.

Her son’s friends have asked about holding a vigil on Mother’s Day or Monday — the one-year anniversary of Jarvis’ death — but she doesn’t think it’s a good idea. “I don’t want to attract more negativity,” she said.

Instead she will visit Claremont, where she still has family, to put up her sign. “It will probably be gone within an hour,” she told me, “but it’s something I have to do for Jesse.”

Jim Kenyon can be reached at jkenyon@vnews.com.