EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

October 22, 2006

Police, family, friends and well-wishers attend slain officer's funeral

By Terry Date

MANCHESTER - Some 4,000 white-gloved police, many of them wiping away tears, saluted slain Manchester Officer Michael Briggs at his funeral yesterday.

Officer John Breckinridge was Briggs' partner, and he was there Monday night when the married father of two was shot. Yesterday, in a eulogy before the fallen officer's coffin, Breckinridge told the capacity crowd at Merchantauto.com Stadium that Briggs, 35, a father of two young children, was tough and fair, someone "we always want to be but never quite get there.

"In the blink of an eye, Officer (Nate) Lindstad and I lost a partner and a friend," he said, choking with emotion.

That stark recognition of how quickly an officer can fall in the line of duty is what bonds them - a bond that allows for consolation at a ceremony such as yesterday's, Pelham police Chief Evan Haglund said.

"It affects all of us because it could be any of us," Haglund said afer the funeral.

Derry police Capt. Vernon Thomas said much the same before the ceremony as officers readied to step off in the 2-mile procession to the stadium. "We recognize the threat is always out there."

Nearby, Londonderry police Officers Scott Balukonis and Shaun Goodnow had different thoughts on the risks associated with police work in the wake of the Manchester officer's murder.

"Who wants to think about the worst-case scenario?" Goodnow asked.

Balukonis said the possibility is always in the back of an officer's mind.

"Evil is out there," he said. "Most of the time you deal with people and they are friendly. But one in a thousand have bad intentions."

Reflections varied among several state senators in the procession.

State Sens. Maggie Hassan, D-Exeter, and Chuck Morse, R-Salem, said that this day they were thinking about Briggs' family and the Manchester department.

Sen. Jack Barnes, R-Raymond, said he was angry. Barnes said he favors giving the New Hampshire Attorney General's office all the resources it needs to prosecute and seek the death penalty for the person responsible for Briggs' death.

Briggs leaves a wife, Laura, and two sons Mitchell, 8, and Brian, 11.

The funeral procession moved in grandeur. Mounted police were fronted by a riderless horse, symbolic of a fallen officer. A police cruiser carried Briggs' bicycle. He was a department mountain bike officer.

Police marched in their dress uniforms, six abreast, stepping to a cadence tapped out by drummers with the New Hampshire Police Association Pipes and Drums.

The band, which piped "Amazing Grace" and "Going Home," was formed after the shooting death of New Hampshire State Police Office James Noyes in 1994. Boston Police pipers played at the trooper's funeral because New Hampshire did not have its own pipe and drum group at the time.

Yesterday it took more than 35 minutes for the columns of officers to file into the stadium, home to the New Hampshire Fisher Cats minor league baseball team. Departments from throughout the state and region were represented.

Color guards strected across the outfield warning track.

Some 200 Manchester police officers rimmed the infield grass from first to third base, their hands folded in front of them, their stillness broken from time to time as they raised gloved fingers to their eyes.

Gov. John Lynch, Attorney General Kelly Ayotte, Manchester Mayor Frank Guinta, and the entire New Hampshire Congressional delegation were among the dignitaries who joined the Briggs family seated behind home plate.

Briggs' casket lay draped in an American flag, topped by his police cap.

The officer was shot in the head while responding to a domestic violence call with a report of gunfire. A Manchester man, Michael Addison, 26, was later arrested in Boston and charged with capital murder for allegedly shooting Briggs.

The governor paid tribute to Briggs and his public service, his answering the public's call for help. Lynch also acknowledged the anger that many share over the incident.

"We are united in grief, and, yes, in anger," he said, adding that the shooting tears at the fabric of community "and tugs at the core of our hearts."

A family tribute came from the officer's sisters, Tracie Davison, Melisa Briggs and Sarah Briggs.

They recalled family vacations at York Beach, Maine. Tracie Davison, one of Briggs' three sisters, spoke of Briggs' attempts to ride a motorcycle.

It was on vacation at York Beach, Maine, where he took a motorcycle for a short ride, even though he hadn't been on one for a long time.

"He ended up in some bushes, in some trash cans, and walked the motorcycle all the way back to the cottage," prompting years of ribbing, she said.

"He had not ridden a motorcycle since and we were glad he decided to pedal a bike instead," she said.

With temperatures in the 40s, EMTs handed out blankets and handwarmers to some in the stands. An officer brought a leather police jacket to Briggs' 11-year-old son, Brian, who was wearing one of his dad's short-sleeved bicycle uniform shirts.

Many residents stood along the procession route that took Briggs' coffin by City Hall; the Hillsborough County Jail, where he once was a corrections officer; and by Manchester police headquarters, which is named after Officer Ralph Miller, the last Manchester officer killed in the line of duty - 30 years ago this month.

Among the several hundred shivering in the stadium were about 30 Boy Scouts, Cub Scouts and their leaders from Manchester.

"We felt that it was kind of our duty to be part of it and be part of the city as a community joined together for a tribute to somebody who protects us everyday," said Assistant Scoutmaster Doug Williams.

Nine-year-old Cub Scout Alex Yatzus said he was there to say thanks.

"I know that Michael did a lot of good things for people and I just wanted to thank him here," he said.

Associated Press contributed to this story.