Editor’s Note: Below is a follow-up story to the circumstances surrounding the death of Manchester Assistant Fire Chief Brendan Burns. The details are unsettling, however, they are the facts of this case. In the documents, released following a Right-to-Know request by Manchester Ink Link and included below, Londonderry Police concluded that based on the account of the alleged rape, their investigation, and initial reports as of Oct. 1, “Burns may have taken his own life due to the investigation into the allegations against him.” We will continue to follow this case as more information becomes available. It is a tragic story for our community and all those involved but one that requires transparency and accountability for those in power. – Carol Robidoux, Publisher
24-Hour NH Coalition Against Domestic and Sexual Abuse Hotline
MANCHESTER, NH – Five days before Manchester Assistant Fire Chief Brendan Burns was found dead on a hiking trail in Pelham, a Londonderry woman filed a report alleging he had sexually assaulted her on Sept. 22 in her home.
The alleged assault was recorded on her Nest camera system, a video which police said will not be released to the public because it violates the woman’s privacy rights. Initial requests for more information about the sexual assault investigation underway at the time of Burns’ death were declined. On Oct. 3 Manchester Ink Link filed a “right to know” request with Londonderry Police.
On Oct. 9, Londonderry police released 61 pages of reports of the Sept. 22 incident with information blacked out concerning the woman’s identity, both hers and Burns dates of birth, the location where they, along with others, met for drinks and the name of the restaurant where the two ate and drank margaritas. Assistant Londonderry Town Counsel Michael J. Malaguti said the redactions were to safeguard individual’s privacy rights and the integrity of the death investigation being conducted by Pelham police.
Fire Chief Dan Goonan, speaking on behalf of the Manchester Fire Department, said “we are shocked, horrified, and enraged by the actions allegedly committed by Brendan M. Burns. Counseling services continue to be offered to members of the Manchester Fire Department by the Granite State Critical Incident Stress Debriefing Team and the City’s Employee Assistance Program during this difficult time.”
He referred inquiries regarding the sexual assault investigation to Londonderry police at (603) 432-1118 and any questions regarding the death investigation to Pelham police at (603) 635-2411.
Burns, 45, of Londonderry was contacted on Sept. 29 by Londonderry Police at approximately 2 p.m. and agreed to be interviewed by detectives investigating the rape allegation at 3 p.m. He never showed up and Londonderry police, after attempting to contact Burns two more times by phone, issued an arrest warrant. However, at 9:15 a.m. on Sept. 30 morning Burns’ wife called police to report him missing. He had never returned home on Sept. 29 after leaving for work in the morning. His body was found Sept. 30 in Pelham by police after tracking his cell phone.
Pelham police said they are not releasing their reports until the untimely death investigation is complete which includes the receipt of toxicology tests, which could take weeks.
When Londonderry police informed the woman of Burns’ death, she broke down and cried uncontrollably. She said Burns was a “piece of shit” for what he did to her but she “didn’t want him to die.” She said she didn’t want any of this to happen, that she felt bad for his family and couldn’t believe what was happening.
“I had to tell someone or I would have taken my own life… I didn’t want him to do what he did to me to someone else,” she said.
According to Londonderry Police Lt. Jason Y. Breen’s account of the alleged rape, initial reports as of Oct. 1 were that “Burns may have taken his own life due to the investigation into the allegations against him.”
From the investigative reports, it is clear the two knew each other. On Sept. 22, they and others met up for drinks. The woman said she had three beers. From there Burns and the woman stopped at a restaurant for food and margaritas at Burns’ suggestion. She said that Burns texted her and suggested she tell the others they had been with that she was going home instead of meeting with him. She stated that she “felt weird” about that and didn’t understand why Burns would want her to lie about going straight home. Before going to the restaurant, the woman texted someone asking him to meet her at the designated restaurant, but he said he had other plans and that she would be fine going with Burns.
They arrived at the restaurant a little after 8 p.m. It was the first time the two had been out alone. She told police Burns ordered food and two drinks and encouraged her to drink her margarita. She remembers not wanting to drink, and only having a few sips of her drink. She thought they were there for about two hours.
She drove home, with Burns following behind, and arrived there about 10 p.m. She didn’t remember why he followed her. Once at her home, she told police she felt awkward and tried to act normal giving Burns a tour of her home, playing music and offering him a drink.
At that point, she thought Burns was intoxicated but still composed. She remembered sitting on the couch, talking with him and trying to keep her distance while he kept getting closer.
She felt sick and Burns rubbed her back but she ended up vomiting in the bathroom. When she came out of the bathroom, Burns held her up on the wall insinuating they should have sex.
The woman told detectives she remembered saying something along the lines of: It was not a good idea [to have sex], she doesn’t know what is happening right now, fooling around is a bad idea and discussing Burns’ having a family.
Burns, she said, told her he wasn’t going to hurt her and told her she was beautiful while stroking her hair.
She said she kept trying to talk Burns out of it because she felt caught off guard and wanted to defuse the situation.
Burns, she said, helped her after she vomited – helped her with her hair, got her a water, cleaned up – and she remembered feeling weak, dizzy and sick to her stomach.
Burns grabbed her, guided her to the couch and pushed her onto it and expressed that he wanted to have oral sex. She said she did not want that to happen but Burns kept trying to undo her pants and she tried to keep them on. Ultimately, he removed them and performed oral sex on her.
The woman told detectives she felt really sick and disgusted. Burns continued to make sexual advances toward her which culminated in a sexual encounter. She told detectives she felt she had no strength to thwart his advances.
She also remembered telling him she didn’t want to have sex with him.
The woman said she felt embarrassed by not being able to remember a lot. She said she is a social drinker and does not typically get sick from drinking. She never had lapses of memory before.
She said she wished she could turn back time and had gone straight home.
After her initial report, police decided they would attempt a one-party consent phone call, that is with the permission of the New Hampshire Attorney General’s Office, they would record a phone call the woman made to Burns in an effort to gather more evidence.
Six days after the alleged incident, on Sept. 28, Burns called the woman and left a voicemail. Detectives decided that since Burns expected a call back, that would be the conversation they would record.
In the call, the woman told Burns she doesn’t remember how she got home and he acknowledged they both drank a lot and that he followed her home.
“I feel like we got fucking roofied or something. It was weird,” Burns said.
She told him she remembered saying no to him and saying she didn’t want anyone to get hurt and that he was married with children. But, she told him, he removed her pants anyway.
“Believe me if we could go back in time, it happened…it’s like we both just had a moment.”
She said she didn’t understand why he didn’t listen to her when she said no.
“We were both shit-faced. I promise I would never have. I don’t want to hurt you.”
The woman asked him if they had sex.
“No, no, no and you wanted me to stop and then I’m like (name blacked out) let’s just and we just fooled around a lot…it was a mess. I’m sorry too, I regret every second of it, I fucked up. It was both of us, I mean we were both bad. We were both way too drunk, it was bad top to bottom. Two people drank too much and kinda fucked up is how I look at it.”
He apologized numerous times and said he wished they could go back in time. He asked her not to make it sound like he did something against her will, “I promise you, you know I would never do that.”
He told her he respected and cared for her and said he will never discuss the situation and thinks they should put it past them.
She asked him why he took her pants off when she said no. “You weren’t really saying no that’s the thing. I understand what you’re saying and we were both like, eh we shouldn’t do this.”
Burns then said he hoped no one slipped her something and acknowledged their behavior was not like themselves. He said she went from “0 to 60 pretty quick” which wasn’t like her, a reference to her level of intoxication, according to the police report.
He said he was married for 17 years and never kissed anyone else. “I liked that, even for a minute you liked it, like that was weird, ya know like this is so wrong, but I guess I wasn’t in a point to tell to stop, ya know so and I ya know I’m guilty…I say I’m guilty, I don’t mean like please don’t make it sound like, don’t want this to sound like a college kid and it was like a rape or something, it wasn’t like that, ya know what I mean, that’s not me.”
Based on the investigation, inlcuding review of video footage from the alleged assault, and that one-way taped conversation, police decided to draft an arrest warrant for one or more counts of aggravated felonious sexual assault (rape) and requested the Rockingham County Attorney’s Office to review it for sufficient probable cause based on:
- The woman’s visible level of intoxication corroborated by her statements and the video evidence as well as the surrounding circumstances, with her intoxication also being attested to by Burns in the one-party phone call.
- Burns’ acknowledgment that he understood her high level of impairment.
- Burn’s statement to the woman when she confronted him that she told him to stop and he said, “I wasn’t in a point tell to stop,” (sic).
- Burn’s apparent dishonesty in denying that he engaged in sexual intercourse which is contradicted by the woman’s statements and the video evidence that depicts motions consistent with sexual intercourse.
- That a degree of force was used to place the woman on the couch on two separate occasions during the alleged assault.
On Oct. 1, the woman talked with Lt. Jason Y. Breen. She was very upset and told the officer she had just learned that a copy of the suicide note written by Burns was released to his family, claiming his innocence, and that it contained her name.
She was angry that Pelham police would give an unredacted copy of the suicide note to Burns’ father, a retired police officer. She said it sounded like police were sticking together and helping each other out. Breen said he did not believe that to be the case but Londonderry police were not handling the death investigation.
Who gave her the information is blacked out in the report, however, it goes on to say that the woman called the Pelham police chief and he told her the same thing.
Police collected evidence at the woman’s home including the woman’s clothing. Later, she set aside two beer bottles from which she and Burns’ had drank believing police would be able to collect his fingerprints if needed.
The bottles were three-quarters filled but were emptied and set aside on a window sill. Later, a friend noticed a white substance in the bottom of one of the bottles. Police returned to collect the bottles, taking a sample of the white substance for testing.
The following documents were released Oct. 9, 2020, to the public following a 91:A request as it pertains to the public’s right to know, open government, and government records involving public officers and employees.
Below, letter from Londonderry Assistant Town Solicitor Michael Malaguti regarding police compliance with public records requests and redactions made to the full report.
Below, redacted report issued by Londonderry Police regarding their investigation and conclusions following a reported alleged sexual assault and its connection to the death of Manchester Assistant Fire Chief Brendan Burns, and the status of that investigation.