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In Townsend, a Day for Somber Salutes

January 18, 2019 GMT

By Scott Shurtleff

TOWNSEND -- More than 120 police officers from dozens of towns lined the inside of the Anderson Funeral Home following a short walk of honor for retired police Sgt. John Johnson, who was killed along with his wife in a multi-car collision on a New Hampshire highway last week.

The man affectionately known as “Grill Sergeant” cruised his final beat through a town he served for nearly 40 years.

After the private salute from uniformed brethren Thursday afternoon, Heidi and John Johnson were visited by friends, family and members of a community that the couple have been connected to for more than 50 years. Onlookers watched as a formation of police and firefighters from departments across two states marched in unison from the Townsend Congregational Church to the funeral home, ahead of the public viewing of the couple, who will be buried Friday.


Patrolman Tom Bishop, of Jaffrey, N.H., was among the wave of dress-blue-clad law enforcement personnel.

“I came on my day off to show my support for a fallen officer,” he said. “Unfortunately I have been to too many of these.”

Regardless of the name on the pin, the rank on the collar, the patch on the sleeve or the town on the badge drew, they shared a common purpose. It was a day to honor.

John Johnson, 58, and his wife Heidi, 57, of New Ipswich, N.H., were killed on Jan. 10, just before midnight, in a three-vehicle crash on the westbound side of Route 101 near Exit 7 in Epping, N.H. They were pronounced dead at the scene after allegedly being struck head-on by a pickup truck driven by Ryan Kittredge, who authorities say was under the influence. He was flown to Massachusetts General Hospital with serious injuries. Charges are pending.

Once the formation arrived at the funeral home, the men and women marched in silence, single-file through the front door to a private gathering of only law enforcement and clergy.

Heidi Johnson’s contribution to the occupation did not go unnoticed. “A police wife stands by her husband,” said Melissa Pearson, of Pepperell, who is married to Ayer police Sgt. Eric Pearson. “And she stood by him until the end. A police family sticks together.”

A childhood friend of Heidi was outside in the crisp air to watch the solemn columns of police. “I have been friends with their family for 50 years,” said Janet Hautanen, of Jaffrey. “I am sure they are all devastated. They are a very tight-knit family.”


As the Townsend police family mourned together, the logistical duties and town safety was held fast by about 30 members of the North Eastern Massachusetts Law Enforcement Counsel. NEMLEC is a consortium of 65 departments across the Greater Merrimack Valley that serve as a single team to lend support to towns within the network. Differentiated from the dress-blue company by yellow vests, NEMLEC personnel handled traffic control and established a command center while also standing on-call for routine police business.

Grill Sergeant Johnson earned his nickname because every year he would helm the barbecue for the annual police cookout at the Senior Center, where his mother is an active member. He grew up in Townsend and was a 1978 graduate of North Middlesex Regional High School. Heidi, whom he married in 2009, is a Pepperell native who graduated from North Middlesex in 1979.

Visiting hours were scheduled from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. at the Anderson Funeral Home, 250 Main St., with burial to follow at Hillside Cemetery.