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Editor murdered, but small-town paper gets the news out

August 22, 1997

CONCORD, N.H. (AP) _ Editor Dennis Joos died trying to protect the staff at his weekly newspaper from a man who had just killed a woman in the parking lot with a rifle.

With blood on the ground and police searching every inch of the building and grounds, the staff of The News and Sentinel in Colebrook then wrote the story and put out the paper _ on time, with three bylined stories by the slain editor.

``This town expects us to put out the paper,″ said publisher John Harrigan.

Harrigan was not in the building Tuesday afternoon when Carl Drega shot Harrigan’s former girlfriend, Vickie Bunnell, and Joos, the publisher’s close friend. Bunnell, a lawyer and part-time judge, had an office in the same building.

Harrigan jumped into his car to drive to the paper after hearing on a scanner that two state troopers had been shot in Colebrook, a town of 2,600 just nine miles from Canada.

Harrigan called the paper from his car and office manager Gil Short told him two more people had been killed in the newspaper’s parking lot.

``The minute I heard there was a shooting here, I knew it was Drega,″ Harrigan said.

Drega, 62, who was killed by police, was well-known as a troublemaker who had threatened Bunnell in the past because of court rulings that went against him. Authorities found bomb-making manuals, weapons, hundreds of pounds of explosives and an elaborate system of tunnels on his property. They burned his barn Wednesday night to set off explosives.

As Drega arrived at the newspaper Tuesday afternoon in a cruiser stolen from one of the troopers, Bunnell spotted his checked shirt and the rifle from her window and ran through the newspaper offices shouting a warning. She then ran out the back door, followed by most of the News and Sentinel staff.

Drega ran behind the building and shot and killed Bunnell, 44, in the parking lot. Joos tackled him, but Drega wrestled free and shot the editor, then left. Joos died on the way to the hospital.

Joos, 51, was an Exeter native who made a 1970s back-to-the-land move to the North Country. His co-editor, Susan Zizza, said he once trained to be a Roman Catholic priest. He later married, and he and his wife, Polly, have a son attending college in Alaska.

The weekly paper was 80 percent complete when Joos was shot.

Harrigan, who also was friends with the dead troopers, ripped apart the paper, wrote an editorial headlined ``Horrible, unbelievable, and other words that fail,″ and wrote the lead story on the shootings.

``I didn’t have to check facts,″ he said Wednesday.

Reporter Claire Lynch-Knapper, who rushed to the scene as soon as the troopers were shot, helped report on their deaths. Another reporter, Kenn Stransky, was designated as spokesman to answer questions from other reporters. Harrigan’s daughter, Karen, a correspondent for The Union Leader of Manchester, drove 140 miles north to help her dad. Local friends and relatives also came in to help.

The weekly, which covers parts of three states and southern Quebec province with about a dozen staff members and several correspondents, hit the stands as usual Wednesday morning.

The press run of 5,000 was increased to 9,000, as the staff played host to visiting reporters and faxed copies of their stories all over.

``It’s a professional courtesy. Everybody shares in this all over the state. We’re not isolated or insulated up here,″ Harrigan said. ``It’s tribal instinct. It felt good to have people doing the story.″

And it was Harrigan’s way of coping with the loss of four good friends.

``The enormity of this _ I know what happened _ I haven’t sat down to deal with it. I can’t afford to do it yet,″ he said.

Joos, who spent as much time as he could writing stories, will live on for a while in the pages of the paper he loved.

He had a file of feature stories waiting for room in the paper and had just finished writing a novel, ``The Curse of the House of Wingate,″ about eccentric characters in the North Country.

``We’ll run his byline until we run out of it,″ Harrigan said.

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