Officials investigate vandalism targeting New Hampshire Public Radio reporter

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Journalist Lauren Chooljian returned home last month to find a brick had been thrown through the window of her house in Melrose, Mass. On the white siding just below the shattered glass, the vandal had spray-painted an ominous warning in large, red letters.

“JUST THE BEGINNING!”

In fact, the beginning had started almost a month earlier. Since late April, there had been four other attacks on homes linked to Chooljian, all struck with the same two weapons: a brick and red spray paint. The targets included his old address, his boss’ house and his parents’ house, which was hit twice.

Police in four cities are investigating the five incidents. On Thursday, Middlesex County District Attorney Marian Ryan in Massachusetts released video footage of a vandal throwing a brick into Cholejian’s home and asked anyone with information about his identity to contact the police. Ryan said investigators are considering the possibility that the attacks are linked to Chooljian’s work as a senior reporter and producer for New Hampshire Public Radio. The possible motive: revenge for stories she has published in the past, intimidation to silence her in the future, or both.

“It obviously involves some First Amendment concerns and is much more disturbing,” Ryan told Thursday’s press conference.

On Tuesday, Chooljian posted a photo to Twitter of his broken window and the graffitied caption underneath. Someone spray-painted her boss’s front door with a misogynistic slur using the same type of red spray paint, she wrote in the tweet, and did the same in her parents’ garage twice.

“It’s not right,” she said.

Choojian’s most recent work revealed allegations of sexual misconduct against Eric Spofford, a recovering drug addict who abstained and built the largest network of addiction treatment centers in New Hampshire. Since 2019, the state of New Hampshire has awarded the Spofford-founded network, Granite Recovery Centers, more than $3 million in untendered contracts, according to its information.

Choojian’s investigative projectwhich released in March, led New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu (R), who appeared alongside Spofford in July at a press conference at the Granite Recovery Centers, to call the charges against Spofford “very serious ‘ and to say ‘they need to be taken seriously and investigated.

After Cholejian’s home was vandalized, Melrose Police Chief Michael Lyle said WBUR that he “would certainly think [Spofford] may be questioned by the authorities.

“After the article appeared, all these problems started for the journalist or the news agency. At some point [investigators] can have a conversation with him,” Lyle said, according to the radio station.

Spofford did not immediately respond to a Washington Post request for comment early Wednesday. But in a statement his lawyers gave to WBURSpofford denied any involvement in the attacks and said the media coverage of the vandalism was a “coordinated attack” to prevent him from suing for libel over Chooljian’s recent articles.

“Not only was I completely uninvolved in these incidents of vandalism, but I neither support nor condone them. I also have no need to vandalize anyone’s property. I have the truth on my side and I will vindicate myself through legal means,” Spofford said. WBUR in the statement provided by his lawyers.

New Hampshire Public Radio President and CEO Jim Schachter declined to discuss possible suspects with WBUR, but denounced the vandalism as “gross and senseless attacks” that would not stop Chooljian or the radio station. to continue their work.

“This reporting by Lauren and our newsroom is an outstanding report that no one will stop our newsroom from continuing to carry on, wherever that takes them,” Schachter said.

Fellow journalists rallied behind Chooljian and his boss, news director Dan Barrick, whose home was also vandalized.

In a tweet on Saturday, an NPR reporter called them “two of the best colleagues I’ve ever had, journalists of the highest integrity,” adding, “That’s NOT OK.” A fellow New Hampshire Public Radio reporter called Chooljian and Barrick “outstanding journalists and wonderful human beings”, but said even those who don’t know them should be “saddened and outraged” by people who attack journalists.

Katie Colaneri, also a New Hampshire Public Radio reporter, made a similar note in her tweet: “Violent vandalism and threats against journalists – and anyone who speaks truth to power – is unacceptable and reprehensible,” she said. writing. “I support my colleagues… and their families. »

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