Police commendation ceremonies are a way for officers to be recognized for rising to particular on-the-job challenges, often during calls for service that involve elevated danger, or loss of life.
Such was the case on Sept. 22 when 30 officers and four training officers received recognition for their work in the field.
As Manchester Police Chief David Mara prepared to announce the first round of commendations, for 14 officers who responded to or assisted in a stabbing incident on February 2 that resulted in the death of 22-year-old Christopher Gagnon, Mara paused for a more pressing recognition.
“I’d ask you all to stand for a moment of silence for Christopher Gagnon, and for his family members, who are here,” said Mara.
As of today, no one has been charged with Christopher Gagnon’s stabbing, even though his parents, Lisa and Lucien Gagnon Jr., say they know who stabbed their son.
“The police know. The AG knows, too,” said Lisa Gagnon.
“But all we hear is that ‘we can’t confirm or deny’ any information. It’s been eight months, and he’s running around free after killing someone,” said Lucien Gagnon Jr.
Following the ceremony, Manchester Assistant Chief of Police Nick Willard approached the family, offering his condolences and a handshake.
Willard listened to their frustrations as they told him they have no beef with the police department, and don’t object to a commendation for Officer Daniel Wood, who administered CPR to their son in the back of a truck, and then tried to bring him back using a defibrillator until an ambulance arrived.
“I have no issue with them giving him an award. But maybe it could’ve waited until they made an arrest,” said Lisa Gagnon.
Willard took that to heart.
“I spoke to the family just now, and they said they don’t have a problem with the officer who, in this case, did everything to save their son’s life. I told them that he will wear that ribbon of commendation as a tribute to their son. I know, because each one of these ribbons I wear has a victim attached to it, and that’s why I wear them, in honor of the victims,” Willard said, pointing to an array of bars pinned to his shirt.
Willard also said that while the case is completed and is considered solved, from his perspective, what remains unsettled is what the Attorney General’s office feels are appropriate charges.
Or whether an arrest will be made.
“I can understand the family’s frustration. This particular incident has many layers and facets. I don’t know at what point there are any charging decisions coming from the AG’s office, but I hope they make a decision soon,” Willard said.
Assistant Attorney General Peter Hinckley, who is handling the case, said Monday that he would not frame the case as “closed” but rather as an “active and open investigation.”
“It’s not a bone of contention with Nick Willard, but I would not consider a case closed until charges are made. Police investigators will continue to do what we ask of them, which includes forensic evidence and, hopefully, we’ll have decisions made within a week or two,” Hinckley said.
He would not elaborate further on whether an arrest will be made.
“Our victim advocate is in constant contact with the family, and we truly understand how frustrating it is for the victim’s family, losing someone to a violent crime. We’ll follow typical protocol and prior to any announcement, let the family know our determination,” Hinckley said.
Two days after Gagnon’s death, the AG’s office ruled his death a homicide following results of an autopsy.
Lisa Gagnon said she and her husband miss their son every day, as do his close circle of friends. He was the kind of kid who would do anything for anyone, no matter what time of day or night.
Eight months without closure makes it hard to move on, she said.
As for the last update she had, it came from victim advocate Bridget Feeney, who told her the AG’s office was supposed to let the family know the outcome of the investigation late last week, or early this week.
“We’re still waiting. We’ve been hearing that for a long time. Anything we do hear, we hear through Facebook, and that’s not right,” Lisa Gagnon said.