Officers, K-9 praised for work, dedication

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BELLOWS FALLS — The Bellows Falls Police Department and its tracking dog, Caesar, were praised for their dedication and hard work over the weekend, ending in the apprehension of a suspect accused of two violent assaults, including one Friday afternoon in Bellows Falls.

During a regular meeting of the Bellows Falls Village Board of Trustees on Tuesday evening, Municipal Manager Wendy Harrison thanked the entire department, and the half-dozen officers as well as Caesar who were able to attend the evening meeting.

"I am proud of the officers for not giving up, for working together as an effective team and for their dedication to protecting the residents of the village," Harrison said.

She thanked Police Chief Ron Lake and Fire Chief Shaun McGinnis, who is also a police officer, as well as Sgt. David Bemis; Officer Mario Checchi and his dog Caesar; Cpl. Mike Keefe; Officer Joshua Paulette; Officer Ian Tuttle; Officer Noah Rheaume; Officer Joshua Parro; Officer Zak Tarvit and Dispatcher Alisha Beam.

"Thank you all very much for your service and your teamwork," she said, opening the meeting with her thanks.

Checchi and Caesar were accompanied to the meeting by Keefe, Paulette, Tuttle and Parro, as well as the two chiefs.

Later, a Bellows Falls parent, who had missed the early presentation by Harrison, said she wanted to talk about the weekend's manhunt. Verna Joslyn of Bellows Falls said her 10-year-old son was allowed to walk to his great-grandparents' home in the area where police were searching for John-Victor Wetherby.

She said her son wasn't scared because he didn't know what was going on. Joslyn said she plans on raising the issue with school officials as well.

Village President Deborah Wright, who is also a member of the Bellows Falls Union High School Board, and as a result, also of the Windham Northeast Supervisory Union, said she plans on raising the issue too. Wright, who has grandchildren in the village, said she was concerned as well.

"I don't understand why school was not in lockdown," said Joslyn. "Clearly, it should have been handled a little bit differently."

Joslyn said school officials told her that they had been advised there was no risk to children, but that school buses dropped children off in a different location. During Friday afternoon, police believed that Wetherby was holed up in a house on Hyde Street, and asked for help from the Vermont State Police tactical unit to find Wetherby in the vacant home. But when police entered the building, they didn't find Wetherby. He was discovered about six hours later after Bellows Falls police tracked Wetherby to a home on Cota Heights Road in Rockingham after midnight.

Lake didn't respond directly to Joslyn's concerns, but said the police department is looking into a mass notification system similar to the school's no-school system, in order to get the word out about potential serious situations. Earlier in the week, Lake said the department relied on social media to communicate with the public, and he said it was very effective.

Contact Susan Smallheer at ssmallheer@reformer.com or 802 254-2311, ext. 154.

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