Town comes together after a tragic 2014

Pair of killings sparks in Townshend sparks formation of community group

TOWNSHEND — A pair of homicides that occurred in town in quick succession last year have led to a gathering of community.

On Aug. 21, 2014, Shane Brodeur, 26, shot and killed his partner, Katelyn McFadden, 20, and then himself.

Exactly three months later, Town Lister Robin O'Neill fatally shot her ex-fiancée, Steve Lott, 60, and his 28-year-old son, Jamis Lott. She has pleaded not guilty to two counts of second-degree murder.

The devastation to this small town was met in part by a rotating group of 10 to 15 community members who meet every Wednesday at 9 a.m. in the town library.

At first, the meetings were emotional and overwhelming, but gradually they formed into action plans.

Last week's meeting was all business, and included poster making, budgetary items, and plans for non-violence workshops.

These meetings, a direct response to the effect of the murders, were initiated by Leland & Gray Union Middle and High School Principal Dorinne Dorfman.

“I kept asking, Where is the leadership?” she explained in a recent interview.

Dorfman reached out to mental health services providers in Brattleboro and the state Department of Education. She was matched with experts in the fields of death and grieving for young adults and communities.

Three of the four people killed were in their 20s.

“[It's] different to lose someone in their 20s,” Dorfman explained. “Really awful.”

Dorfman was connected to the murders in part because two of the victims were graduates of Leland & Gray and lived only a couple of miles away from the school. She said that everyone in town was directly linked to the murders. This led to community outreach.

“I got a call from Dorinne,” explained Pastor Ron Millette from Calvary Chapel in West Townshend at last Wednesday's meeting.

Members from the West Townshend Community Project, Grace Cottage Hospital, the Windham County Sheriff's Department, West River Valley Thrives, three churches, and a shaman with local roots have all been drawn to attend these meetings.

Many others come as well. The group represents a diversity of ages, genders, and backgrounds.

“The goal [is to] let hope in,” Millette adds. The group calls itself Community Hope in Action.

Members identified the central issue facing Townshend as isolation. One person, Dorfman reports, claimed: “I used to know what my neighbors ate for breakfast. Now my neighbors were killed, and I didn't even know their names.”

The group is about to launch a monthly concert series on Jan. 31 in hopes of bringing the community together.

Terry Davison Berger, a resident of Townshend and the sister of a local musician, described a successful concert on the town green last summer before the murders and remembered, “Music and food brought people out. We thought, What will bring people out of the woodwork during the wintertime?”

She said that Townshend is a community “that historically does not like feeling like outsiders are coming and telling them what to do. [They] want to feel like they are making decisions.”

Dorfman is hopeful about the group's potential, which also includes representatives from the Townshend Public Library, Fire Department, Elementary School, the Vermont Department of Health, Health Care and Rehabilitative Services, and the Calvary, Our Lady of the Valley, and Townshend congregational churches.

The group is sponsored by a grant from United Way under Leland & Gray Union High School. All are invited to attend.

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