A life of mental illness ends in violence
Relatives say woman had psychiatric issues
Photo by Alexander Cohn / Monitor staff Family photos of Shelly Naroian fill a board Thursday, September 22, 2011. Naroian was killed during a stand-off with Hillsboro police in May.Purchase photo reprints at PhotoExtra » By Annmarie Timmins and Maddie Hanna / Monitor staff September 26, 2011 SHARE THISPhoto by Alexander Cohn / Monitor staff A hole where the bullet that killed Shelly Naroian last May can still be seen in the wall of the family's Hillsboro home; Thursday, September 22, 2011.Purchase photo reprints at PhotoExtra »
Four months later, Jim Naroian still displays the condolence cards that arrived after his wife, Shelly, was killed by a police officer's bullet in the living room of their Hillsboro home. The cards reassure Jim his wife isn't forgotten. But they've done little to assuage his guilt and anger.
Jim is the one who called the police to the couple's Sleeper Road home on May 19, after his wife woke him around midnight with a gun to her head and this question: Is this a good one to use?
This wasn't Shelly's first suicidal episode. There had been many, according to family members, and she had been hospitalized twice for psychiatric problems, most recently around Christmas. But this was behavior that Jim, 61, didn't think he could handle himself.
Shelly was angry about a few things that night: She wanted Jim to evict his 42-year-old son by his first marriage, who'd been living with them for 10 months. She was furious that Jim had threatened divorce, which would have jeopardized her standing with her Jehovah's Witness church. The complaints were familiar but this time Shelly also told Jim she had found the keys to his gun safe.
With his wife watching him, Jim called 911. In a recent interview, he said he had hoped the police could do what he couldn't - calm his wife and disarm her before she hurt herself.
"I was thinking to myself she finally is going to get some help," he said. "This time she is going to go to a mental ward she can't get out of until she is well."
An hour later, Shelly was dead, not by her own hand but by a bullet fired by Hillsboro police Sgt. Mark Philibert. She was shot after threatening to kill Jim's 42-year-old son, Ken Naroian, and then aiming a gun at Philibert. She died on her 47th birthday.
According to an investigation by the state attorney general's office, Philibert had tried to coax Shelly out of the house unarmed by assuring her the police were there to help, not hurt her. The attorney general's report said Philibert had been patient - until he heard a shot fired from inside the house.
When Philibert stepped through the front door, time had run out. Shelly was sitting 10 to 12 feet away on a sofa with a revolver aimed at Philibert, the report said. Jim was in the bathroom, on the phone with the 911 dispatcher, when his wife and Philibert came face to face. He ran out just before his wife was shot.
According to the report, a police officer's commands - "Show me your hands, show me your hands, show me your hands! . . . Drop it, drop the gun, drop it, drop it!" - can be heard in a recording of the 911 call. The sound of Philibert's gunshot follow. Then Jim can be heard crying.
Jim said he doesn't remember the police negotiating with his wife or telling her to drop the gun. But according to the attorney general's report, he had told the 911 dispatcher he could hear that his wife wasn't cooperating with the police. Nor would Jim have believed that he had been on the phone with the dispatcher for 59 minutes had the report not said so.
The state attorney general's office concluded that Philibert was legally justified in shooting Shelly because he reasonably believed she was about to kill him. Jim has come to a different conclusion.
"I believe this was a real mess by untrained police officers who didn't seem like they had a leader," he said. "They didn't seem like they ever knew what they were doing. I have no faith in the legal system anymore. I will never call 911 again."
Life without peace
Jim Naroian met Shelly Stilson 28 years ago at a Seabrook restaurant. He was on his way to work at the nuclear power station. She was 19, alone and looking distressed. "She'd been out with her friends, and they all had left," Jim said. "I said, 'You don't know me from anyone, but I'll give you a ride home.' "
The detour made Jim late for work, but the two exchanged phone numbers. He was divorced with a son. She was single. They began dating, and Shelly eventually moved in with Jim, into the log home he had built in Sandown. They were wed in 1988 - it was his fourth marriage - and together they had two children, Sarah, 23, and Peter, 18. (next page »)