State police shoot and kill Orange man
A police car blocks Mechanic Street in Orange, where a man was shot and killed by police Wednesday morning.
ORANGE — At about 5 a.m. on Wednesday, Jennifer Welvert heard loud footsteps crashing above in the upstairs apartment. The early morning noise was unusual for the normally quiet 18 Mechanic St. two-story home.
Welvert, who has lived on the first floor since October, heard no gun shots. But soon the street was cordoned off with yellow crime tape, and state police cars lined the neighborhood — the crime scene of a drug investigation turned fatal.
State police shot and killed a 23-year-old Orange man, who they said confronted troopers with a firearm when they entered his second-floor apartment. A 25-year-old female, also the target of the investigation, suffered an eye injury but was released from a nearby hospital, state police said.
State police did not release their names, but friends and passersby identified the male suspect as “Corey” and the female suspect as his girlfriend.
According to state police, a Special Tactical Operations (STOP) Team was following up on an alleged sale of Percocet and oxycodone, a major ingredient in a wide range of prescription drugs, including Percocet and OxyContin.
The man confronted the troopers with a firearm, state police said, which led at least one trooper to shoot at him. He was taken to a nearby hospital where he was pronounced dead.
State police said that before entering the apartment troopers believed the male suspect had access to, and used, many firearms. The Northwestern District Attorney’s Office will investigate and review if the deadly force by police was justified under the law, said state police. The District Attorney’s Office directed all inquires to the state police Wednesday.
As many as nine state police cars were in front of the house Wednesday afternoon, as passersby stopped to watch on the corner of Mechanic and East Main streets.
Among them was Welvert, who said it wasn’t until she watched the news on television that she learned the full extent of what happened in her apartment house.
“I couldn’t believe that it was my house and he’s dead upstairs,” said Welvert. “He was a great kid. He didn’t deserve to die.”
But Welvert said “it was just a matter of time” before police knocked on her neighbor’s door.
In May, police arrested Kenneth Dennis, 46, in a raid on heroin distribution and illegal possession of firearms charges. Friends said that his daughter, Jessica Dennis, was the 25-year-old female suspect. The house had been the site of other drug-related and illegal firearm arrests in the past six years.
Friends of the male suspect said he moved into the apartment shortly after Kenneth Dennis’ arrest. They said he was not involved in drug or criminal activity before the move.
“He was a really quiet kid. You could be lucky if you got a sentence out of him, but he was really nice,” said 22-year-old Brittany Hodgeon, who said she knew the suspects.
“They were both really nice people,” she said. “I mean, they got into some bad stuff, but other than that they were really good to everyone.”
“I don’t believe he’d shoot a cop,” said Andrew Marsh, 23, who said he was a friend of the suspect since 2005. “He’s not that kind of person.”
Still, neighbors on Mechanic Street said the property has gained a reputation for drug activity.
“We have to keep the kids in the yard to make sure they’re not walking down that way,” said Michele LaVoie, a three-year resident of the street.
The street once was a well-liked neighborhood in town, according to LaVoie, but it has recently taken a turn for the worse. Even before the shooting Wednesday, she had made plans to move herself and her four teenage children out of the town.
Tim Abare, owner of the downtown business Carluci’s Pizza, recently moved into his girlfriend’s Mechanic Street apartment, where she has lived her whole life.
“I think they’re low lifes,” he said, of the suspects. “They’re dealing drugs with kids in the neighborhood and weapons. It’s not a safe situation for anyone.”
Franklin County Sheriff Christopher Donelan, who is an Orange resident, said the town has become a “hotbed” of illegal drug activity. He was the town’s full-time narcotics detective until 1991 and said, that due to budget cuts, he was the last person to hold that position.
“If people in western Mass. think they’re exempt from the violence involved in drug dealing, they’re wrong,” he said. “We are very fortunate today no law enforcement personnel were killed.”
The Northwestern District Attorney’s drug task force has been busy, he said, but more needs to be done to combat the area’s drug problem, he said.
“On a local level, local law enforcement needs to step up and contribute, town by town,” he said. “It’s going to have to be at both levels, local and regional.”
George Willard and Kathy Reinig, members of Orange’s Board of Selectmen, said Wednesday that they could not offer a comment, and were leaving law enforcement business to the state police. Selectman David Ames could not be reached.
Reinig said that the board of selectmen will continue to support anti-crime community events like “National Night Out,” planned for August.
Orange Police Chief Robert Haigh could not be reached for comment.
Reporters Chris Curtis and David Rainville contributed to this story.