Manchester Police Chief David J. Mara is a man of his word.
About 20 years ago, he and Enoch "Nick" Willard were patrol officers staking out a drug house in the city when Mara told Willard that, should Mara ever become chief, he would have Willard at his side.
"He thought I was kidding," Mara said to the laughter of about 100 people attending a ceremony Thursday to officially swear in Willard as the department's assistant chief.
Willard was brought to tears by his daughters, Paige and Rachel, who gave a detailed account of his storied 21-year career with the department, ending it by saying he was an amazing dad and their hero.
He not only is a hero to his children and Diane, his wife of 27 years, but to the department that has honored him twice with the Honorable Service Award. The first time came in 1995 when he rescued and resuscitated a 7-year-old child who had been kidnapped from her bed, brutally raped, choked nearly to death with an electrical cord and crammed into a small opening in a bathroom closet.
He received it a second time in acknowledgment of his role as lead investigator in the investigation into the 2006 murder of Officer Michael Briggs, which resulted in Michael Addison being convicted of capital murder and receiving a death sentence.
It is the kidnapping and near death of that 7-year-old girl, however, that he remembers as the "worst call I have ever responded to in real time."
The child was snatched from her bed at 203 Wilson St. in June 1995 by a man who lived in the same building and took her back to his apartment where he brutally assaulted her.Willard and Officer Al Mosely were sent there after a woman called to say her boyfriend, Dewayne Miles, then 26, had grabbed her by the hair and choked her.The woman arrived home unexpectedly that morning about 2:30 a.m. from work and unwittingly interrupted the rape.
She heard voices coming from the bathroom and tried to enter it when Miles came out and attacked her. She fled the apartment and called police.Willard said he and Mosely arrived to investigate the assault and accidentally discovered the partially nude and unconscious child stuffed into an opening in a closet in the bathroom.
Willard resuscitated the child.Miles was given a 40- to 80-year sentence on numerous charges, including attempted murder, but he has chance to get out in 25 years if he completes a sexual offender program and meets other conditions.
And what became of that 7-year-old girl? Willard says she's doing fine now as a 25-year-old working mother of three children.
"I have always been a victim-oriented police officer so I have a certain attachment to that case," he said. "It's just something you don't ever forget."Miles is incarcerated in the state prison in Berlin. He is eligible for parole in 2024, according to prison officials.Willard, a native of Portland, Maine, entered law enforcement after a four-year stint in the U.S. Air Force.
He was an officer for three years at the Sanbornton Police Department before joining Manchester's department in 1992.
In the 21 years since, he has served in various departments, including patrol and detectives, where he rose to the rank of captain and division commander.
He was one of the original members of the department's community policing unit and bicycle patrol officers.
He holds an associate's degree in criminal justice and is completing his bachelor's degree.
In 2009, Willard earned an honorable mention in the National Association of Police Organization's Top Cop Award, acknowledging his efforts in Addison's arrest and conviction. He also received the U.S. Marshals Service Award for the arrest of a top 10 fugitive.Yesterday, Steven Monier from U.S. Sen. Kelly Ayotte's office presented him with a U.S. flag that flew over the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C., in his honor.Willard replaces Gary Simmons, who retired in April.