'The ripple effect' of those we lost in 2021

Dec. 30—This year saw the deaths of beloved icons from the worlds of politics, sports and the arts.

But for many families in New Hampshire, it will be the loss of dear ones that leave the deepest void as 2021 comes to an end.

Thirteen people died in house fires, 16 were victims of homicide, and 114 died in traffic accidents in New Hampshire in 2021. And more than 1,000 New Hampshire residents died from COVID-19.

State police Staff Sgt. Jesse Sherrill of Barrington died on Oct. 28 after a tractor-trailer truck crashed into his cruiser while he was working an overnight safety detail in a construction zone on Interstate 95 in Portsmouth.

Sherrill, 44, was married and the father of two children. State Police Col. Nathan Noyes called him "a trooper's trooper, a consummate, dedicated professional and a true family man."

A crowd of about 3,500, including hundreds of uniformed police officers, attended a celebration of his life at the Southern New Hampshire University Arena in Manchester.

The arena was also the site of a community memorial service for two brothers from Bow who died in a highway crash on Sept. 10.

Nicholas Ouellette, 16, and his 6-year-old brother, Gavin, died after a vehicle driven by their father, a Bow police officer, drifted into the breakdown lane and struck the rear of a disabled tractor-trailer that had stopped on Exit 89 in their hometown.

The service for the Ouellette boys drew hundreds of classmates, teammates and police officers.

After a Jefferson couple, Michael and Jacqueline George, were killed in a motorcycle crash on Aug. 29 in Bethlehem, the local community rallied to raise funds for their six children who were left orphaned.

Capt. Chris Vetter, commander of the Office of Highway Safety at the state Department of Safety, said every one of those traffic deaths has an exponential impact. "That's the rock that hits the water, but think of the ripple effect," he said. "Every one of those people has family members and friends."

Vetter said speed continues to be a factor in many crashes. "It used to be not common to get cars over 100 miles an hour," he said.

Now, he said, "It's just a matter of how many times a day it happens."

New Hampshire brothers "Tonny" Khiev and Reachsieh "Johnny" Khiev died Dec. 26 in a fiery crash at a New Jersey toll plaza. They had just spent the day visiting their younger sisters and brother. Their 14-year-old sister was also killed in the crash.


Among the leaders New Hampshire lost in 2021:

Former congressman and innkeeper Bill Zeliff, who was 85.

Retired Roman Catholic Bishop John B. McCormack, 86.

The Rev. Peter John Joseph Guerin, O.S.B., the former dean of Saint Anselm College, 85.

Former Nashua Mayor Don Davidson, 82.

Former Nashua Mayor and Executive Councilor Bernie Streeter, 86.

Physician and philanthropist Dr. Horace Shepard Blood, 98.

Longtime Manchester Alderman and state Rep. Barbara Shaw, 79.

Former state Sen. Robert Preston of Hampton, 92.

Former state Safety Commissioner Richard Flynn, 94.

Longtime educators William H. Marston, 90, and Nancy Tessier, 80.


Of the 16 homicides in 2021, one that remains unsolved is the shooting death of 20-year-old Thamba Mbungu, whose body was found the morning of Oct. 24 in Derryfield Park in Manchester.

Mbungu, a native of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, had been captain of his soccer team at Central High School, leading the team to a state final. His former coach, Chris LaBerge, called him "one of the greatest players I've ever had over the last 22 years."

But Mbungu was also "a great gentleman" off the field, serving as a mentor to other players, LaBerge said. His dream was to turn pro, and he had been trying out for teams in Africa.

Perhaps most heartbreaking was the death of 5-year-old Elijah Lewis of Merrimack, whose body was found on Oct. 23 in a Massachusetts park after a 10-day search for the missing child. The little boy died from "violence and neglect," malnourishment and acute fentanyl intoxication, according to the medical examiner's office in Massachusetts.

Elijah's mother and her boyfriend were arrested in New York City on child endangerment and witness tampering charges before the child's body was found.


The 13 victims of house fires included 89-year-old Virginia Higgins, who lived in a Laconia duplex, downstairs from her daughter and son-in-law, Sue and Gregg Hough.

"Ginnie" Higgins had moved in with her family when her eyesight began to fail. Her garden "was the envy of the neighborhood," according to her obituary. Equally gifted at sewing and crafts, she sold her wares at craft fairs and in front of the family home on Motorcycle Weekend; one specialty was her crocheted poodle bottle covers.

State Rep. Gregg Hough learned of his mother-in-law's death while attending a legislative session at a Bedford sports arena.


As 2021 comes to a close, the coronavirus continues to devastate families here, across the nation and around the world.

The Rev. Robert Haynes, 54, the senior pastor at Harvest Christian Fellowship in Berlin, died on Oct. 20 at Concord Hospital after weeks of battling COVID-related pneumonia. He and his wife Wendy previously had served as lead pastors at Manchester Foursquare Church.

Haynes was running for mayor in Berlin when he fell ill. On Nov. 2, he received 771 write-in votes, just 134 fewer votes than the incumbent mayor. His name had been removed from the ballot after his death but supporters launched a write-in as a tribute to his vision for the city he served and loved.

Haynes had also served his country, deploying to Operation Desert Storm in 1991 and with the National Guard in 2004 with Operation Iraqi Freedom.

The day he was buried at the New Hampshire State Veterans Cemetery, his daughter, Savannah Nemiccolo of Loudon, posted a short video clip on social media of her dad fishing.

"I would do absolutely anything for one more fishing trip with you," she wrote. "One more car ride to the farm. One more phone call. One more hug. Just to hear your laugh one last time. I love you dad."