Police investigate two Londonderry deaths

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LONDONDERRY — The small town of Londonderry has been shaken to its core following the unattended deaths of two residents.

At approximately 9:50 a.m. on Wednesday, Vermont State Police and Londonderry Rescue responded to a North Main Street residence following a 911 call reporting a non-responsive male. Keith Johnson, 22, was found deceased in his apartment alongside evidence of recent illicit drug use.

While investigating Johnson's death, detectives were called to the scene of another unattended death in Londonderry at approximately 1:31 p.m. There they discovered 41 year old Kristin Handshaw, who collapsed suddenly at her residence on Magic Mountain Access Road and could not be revived. Vermont State Police are currently investigating whether the deaths are connected.

Police have not said what caused Handshaw's death.

"I don't recall from my experience any other recent overdose deaths in the town of Londonderry," said Detective Lieutenant John-Paul Schmidt of Vermont State Police. "We're still looking into and investigating both cases, and we need autopsy and toxicology results before we reach any definite conclusions."

Both victims were to be transported to the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner in Burlington.

For Londonderry, with a population of approximately 1,700, the deaths of two residents in one day has proven traumatic.

"It's a horrible thing to happen in any community, and Londonderry is a very small community," said Maryann Morris, executive director of The Collaborative, a Londonderry organization combating substance abuse. "We are a very helpful community, so all of the organizations in town, and all of the people in town, are trying to provide support for the families in need."

Among those community organizations is Londonderry's Second Congregational Church, encouraging a community prayer chair for both victims and their families.

"Were holding the entire community in prayer at this sad time," said pastor Laurie Krooss.

"It has a huge impact; it's very upsetting," said Gloria Dawson, interim director of Neighborhood Connections, a center for health and social services in Londonderry. "Everybody knows everyone else here, and something like this is always shocking for a small town. It's really like a family here, everything affects everyone."

While the deaths are shocking for Londonderry residents, they tragically illustrate that small towns are not immune to the opiate crisis gripping the state and the nation.

"It's no different than anywhere else in the country," said Pete Cobb, president of the Londonderry Rescue Squad. "Small towns as well as large cities are facing the same drug opiate abuse patients."

With one of the deaths linked definitively to intravenous drugs, Londonderry joins nearby Brattleboro in a surge of recent overdoses. On Independence Day, the Brattleboro Police Department responded to 11 reported overdoses in 24 hours, with seven conclusively linked to heroin use. The same brand of heroin was found at several of these overdoses. One of those victims passed away earlier this week, as police continue to investigate the origins of the batch.

"The things that are in heroin right now are very dangerous for users, families of users, and first responders to emergencies," said Morris. "We encourage everyone to get as much information about what is happening with opioids in our country, our state, and even small towns like Londonderry."

"It's evidence once again of just how pervasive this scourge is," said Tom Haley, chairman of the board for Turning Point of Bennington County. "It's not going to go away until we all face it."

Reach Cherise Madigan at 802-490-6471.

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