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Mayor George Hansel and 11 city councilors were sworn in to office Monday in an outdoor ceremony on Central Square. The ceremony, usually held…

7-year-old girl disappeared in 2019; police say they just learned about it

The last time anyone reported seeing 7-year-old Harmony Montgomery was Oct. 1, 2019 — more than two years before police say they learned she had disappeared from a home in southern New Hampshire.

Officers saw Harmony that day while responding to a call for service, Manchester Police Chief Allen Aldenberg said Friday. Then they got a report early last week that she had gone missing amid circumstances that Aldenberg called “very concerning.”

“I know people are going to say: ‘Well, here it is 2021, almost 2022, and nobody’s seen this young girl since late of October 2019. So what’s happened in the last two years?’ Fair question,” Aldenberg told reporters last week. “That’s why I’m here today. Because we need assistance, we need help, and we don’t have many answers to many questions that we have.”

Manchester is offering a $2,500 reward for information leading to Harmony’s recovery, and police are accepting tips at 603-203-6060. Local business executives are offering an additional $10,000 reward.

Police over the weekend visited a home on the city’s west side, where Aldenberg said Harmony was once seen. The current homeowner is unrelated to the case, he said.

Aldenberg shared few other details about Harmony’s vanishing, including the circumstances of officers’ home visit in 2019. Police have spoken with some of her family members since she was reported missing and “despite doing so, are concerned for the whereabouts of her,” Aldenberg said Friday. He said Harmony was last enrolled in school in Massachusetts.

About 90,000 people were reported missing in the United States in 2020, and about one-third were juveniles, FBI data shows. Most missing children reported to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children in 2020 had run away, that organization says, with many fewer taken by family members, abducted by strangers or missing under other circumstances.

Harmony spent much of her early life in foster care in Massachusetts, where she looked out for her younger brother Jamison, said Blair Miller, the boy’s father and a D.C.-based reporter for Cox Media Group. By the time Miller adopted Jamison in 2019, he said, state officials told him that Harmony had been reunited with her father.

Despite the siblings’ separation, Jamison often talks about his sister and recently said that a girl at a park reminded him of her. Although Miller and his husband have frequently asked Jamison’s mother, Crystal Sorey, if they could connect with Harmony, Miller said, she has always responded that Harmony was in her father’s custody in New Hampshire.

Sorey often seemed worried about her daughter and frequently said she could not reach her, Miller said. He said he and his husband recently made their own effort to reach Harmony’s father through social media, but did not hear back.

Miller said his family had not given up on reuniting Jamison and his sister.

“We even still get Christmas gifts for her and stuff,” Miller said. “We’re holding on to the ones that we have right now because it’s that important for us to have that relationship.”

Manchester Mayor Joyce Craig’s office received an email last week expressing concern about Harmony and the state Division for Children, Youth and Families, according to Lauren Smith, the mayor’s chief of staff. She said her office responded and sent the information it received to Manchester police.

No Amber Alert is in effect for Harmony’s disappearance because police don’t have enough information about who she may be with or a vehicle that she might be in, Aldenberg said Friday. New Hampshire guidelines direct police to issue Amber Alerts only when they suspect that a child has been abducted by a stranger or by a parent who is showing signs that they intend to harm the child.

Manchester police have discussed the case with the FBI, which is not investigating, Aldenberg said.

The N.H. Department of Health and Human Services, which oversees the division for children and families, declined to answer questions about the case.

Harmony is described as White, about 4 feet tall and 50 pounds, with blond hair, blue eyes and glasses. She is blind in her right eye.

Although more than two years have passed since Harmony disappeared, Aldenberg said, his department is operating under the assumption that she is alive.

“I’m in rescue mode right now. This is not a recovery,” he said Monday. “All efforts are focused on that Harmony is alive, and we are going to do everything that we can to find her in that condition.”

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Nelson School fundraising for otter sculptures
  • Updated

NELSON — If you love art, animals and Nelson School, then you otter get your checkbook out for a new fundraising effort.

The elementary school is raising money for the installation of otter statues that will ”play” along the boulders outside the building, according to a recent letter sent to the school community. Not only is the otter the Nelson School mascot, but the furry semiaquatic mammals can also be found in a marsh just across the street from the school, according to the Dec. 11 letter from otter-sculpture committee members Kelly French and Ed Schillemat.

“We’re pretty excited,” French, who is also a school board member, said in an interview Monday. She added that the effort has already garnered a lot of support from parents, former Nelson School students and town residents.

The project is not a part of the taxpayer-funded school budget, according to the letter.

As of Monday, $6,550 had been raised toward the $15,000 goal, French said. Many people who have mailed in donations have also included kind notes, a gesture that has been very encouraging, she added.

Artist Wendy Klemperer, a part-time Nelson resident, is on tap to create the statues. Klemperer, who has split time between her family home in Nelson and New York since the 1980s, said the rural New Hampshire town has a special place in her heart.

“It would mean a lot to me to have pieces permanently outside the school,” she said Monday. “I love being a part of the community.”

The three otters will be made mostly from salvaged and found metal, according to the letter. But Klemperer who has long been sculpting animals, from porcupines to horses and fish has never sculpted otters before and expects their sleek and playful form will present a new challenge.

“I tend to do much more rangier sort of animals that have a more distinctive form,” she said. “... The challenge will be to convey their athleticism and sleek movement.”

The school is aiming to install the otters in the fall with the hopes that students could visit Klemperer’s workshop as well, French said. Klemperer has also offered to do presentations for students about her sculpting process.

The collaboration will bolster the Nelson School’s science, technology, engineering, arts and math (STEAM) curriculum, French said.

“We do a lot of STEM things with kids,” she said, which includes a robotics program and a LEGO league. “But I think the ‘A’ part, the art, is a really important aspect,” she said.

Nelson School — which enrolls 75 students from Nelson and Sullivan in kindergarten through 5th grade — is also an environmentally conscious school, French said, and repurposing the materials for the statues aligns with the school’s values.

The idea for the project came about two years ago after the school completed an expansion that had required moving boulders that were ultimately lined up in a row between the school’s parking lot and the road, French said.

“We thought, ‘Hey wouldn’t it be cool if we had some kind of features to make those look even cooler?’ ” she said Monday.

Between other projects that were happening in town at the time and the COVID-19 pandemic, the otter project was put on hold. But when Klemperer reached out over the summer to check in about the statues, the school decided it was time to “get serious,” French said.

In addition to the Dec. 11 letter, the otter-sculpting committee also plans to include an insert the town’s quarterly newsletter in February. And at the advice of SAU 29 Chief Financial Officer Tim Ruehr, French is also looking into a grant that could help fund the project, she said.

In the meantime, Klemperer has some important research to do.

“I’m looking forward to going to some zoos or aquariums to watch [otters] this spring and get some ideas,” she said.

People interested in donating to the project can make checks payable to the Nelson School and write “Otter Sculpture Fund” as the memo. The school’s mailing address is Nelson School, 441 Granite Lake Road, Nelson, NH 03457. For questions on the project, contact Kelly French at or 603-847-3276.

Schools facing omicron variant are running short of tests

It’s the item on every superintendent’s wish list: more tests.

Ten minutes into a monthly Zoom call with Education Commissioner Frank Edelblut Monday, school leaders across the state sang a similar refrain: Cases of COVID-19 are going up, and their schools need more tests.

“We would like more tests and would use them!” wrote Dan Morrissey, head of school of Crossroads Academy in Lyme, in a comment to the commissioner.

“Newmarket is waiting for tests to be available,” said Susan Givens, superintendent of the Newmarket School District.

“More tests please,” added Leah Holz, superintendent of the Monroe Consolidated School.

As the 2021 holiday break fades into memory, New Hampshire schools are grappling with the return of students, the spread of the more infectious omicron variant, and the release of a string of new guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in recent weeks that could change how the schools tackle the pandemic.

Schools are still weathering staff shortages, as teachers become sick and isolate. Superintendents are vowing to maintain in-person learning as long as possible. But every strategy to fight the virus — including those recommended by federal authorities — depends on the availability of rapid tests.

And while the state has rolled out programs to provide the tests, each relies on a national supply that has proven volatile.

“OK, everybody needs tests — got it,” Edeblut said, reacting to the chorus. “… We will get on it, and we will get some more tests,” he added.

The testing shortage comes at a key juncture for schools. The rise of omicron cases has prompted some states and cities to delay returning to school this week, or to implement mask requirements.

At the same time, the CDC is promoting a different approach: “test to stay.” Under that strategy, schools may allow children to return to in-person classes even if they were exposed to someone who tested positive for the virus — as long as the exposed child has no symptoms and continues to test negative for COVID. The “test to stay” approach would eliminate many of the mandatory isolation periods that require children who have been exposed to go home until they can produce a negative test.

In a pair of studies released Dec. 17, the CDC found that school districts that had implemented “test to stay” saw lower average daily case rates and were able to keep schools open longer.

The approach is enticing for New Hampshire schools, but it requires near-continuous access to tests. While some schools have already obtained tests through a state program launched earlier in the year, others have been slower to receive them, facing delays in getting the necessary certification to administer them. And those New Hampshire superintendents who do have tests on hand are unsure whether the state’s program restrictions allow them to be used for “test to stay.”

So far, the answers are unclear. The state’s initiative — the “Safer at School” screening program — was originally intended to provide tests for asymptomatic students as a way of catching hidden clusters before they became outbreaks. Given the surge in positive cases through the late fall and winter, Edelblut said schools could likely use the tests however they wanted.

But he also noted federal restrictions governing the program could complicate matters, and directed superintendents to Deputy Commissioner Christine Brennan.

Meanwhile, New Hampshire schools are wrestling with another new guideline from the CDC: a shortening of the recommended isolation period for those who become infected. On Dec. 27, the department reduced the number of days recommended for those with COVID-19 to isolate themselves, from 10 to five.

The reduction, which has drawn criticism, could prompt schools to require teachers and staff to return sooner after becoming infected.

But New Hampshire’s Department of Education is not recommending that schools follow those guidelines, Edelblut said Monday, noting that the state’s Department of Health and Human Services is still waiting for the CDC to fully elaborate on the guidelines.

“We don’t have anything back from CDC,” Edelblut said. “But even the CDC may be revisiting that particular policy to figure out what that looks like and how that would be implemented.”

As schools attempt to scale up their testing efforts, they’ve run into other difficulties with some of New Hampshire’s programs.

“They limit the amount you can get so it increases the number of runs to pick up test kits,” said Jennifer Gillis, assistant superintendent of Manchester School District.

“Yes, we would like a higher limit to make the trip worth it,” added Julie King, superintendent of SAU 3 in Berlin.

Gillis added the home tests provided by the state in December were limited — up to 40 per school in total.

Some officials, like Willow Graham, director of health services at High Mowing School in Wilton, requested that the “Safer at School” tests be made available to children stuck at home — currently they are available only to children in school.

Other officials, such as Lisa Witte, superintendent of Monadnock Regional School District, wanted an option for parents to take their quarantined children to get tested at school.

“I have families keeping their kids home because they are sick, and under (Safer at School) we can’t have the parent come over with the child for us to test,” she wrote.

The test supply delay is unlikely to abate soon. The Department of Education relies on the Department of Health and Human Services, and DHHS must get the tests from manufacturers themselves, using funding from the National Institutes of Health and the CDC, and decide how to distribute them.

Given all of that, Edelblut said the state is going to remain short for now.

“There’s no more that I’ve been notified of that are in the state at this point time for distribution,” he said. “But I’m hearing loud and clear that we need a whole bunch of tests.”

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NH's Bill Gardner, nation's longest-serving secretary of state, announces plans to retire
  • Updated

Bill Gardner, the longest-serving secretary of state in the U.S., announced Monday he will retire in the coming days after 45 years overseeing New Hampshire elections, including the state’s first-in-the-nation presidential primary.

He said in a news conference at the state Capitol in Concord that he will step down after arrangements are made for Deputy Secretary of State David Scanlan to succeed him in the position. He didn’t give an exact date for this. Scanlan will serve the remaining nearly one year of Gardner’s term, and the Legislature will vote again for secretary of state next December.

Gardner’s announcement came 49 years after he first arrived at the Statehouse to take his oath of office as a 24-year-old state representative. He served as a representative for four years before being elected secretary of state.

Longtime Winchester Town Clerk Jim Tetreault said he was pleased to be appointed by Gardner to serve on a commission in about 2010 that confirmed the optical scan voting devices used in New Hampshire were accurate and configured in a way that they could not be connected to the Internet.

“I was happy to do that under his direction and with the rest of the commission,” Tetreault said. “I have had a very good working relationship with the secretary of state’s office during his tenure and mine here in Winchester.”

Gardner said he served with 11 governors, 17 Senate presidents, 13 House speakers, 14 attorneys general and seven treasurers, and praised the thousands of elected officials and volunteers he has worked with.

“I have witnessed the incredible commitment and personal sacrifice they have shown,” he said at Monday’s news conference. “Despite our occasional differences at times, each person with whom I have worked is a good person with good intent.”

He also said he feels it is a “crying shame” that many people seem to have lost faith in the election process.

Gardner served on former President Donald Trump’s Advisory Commission on Election Integrity, formed after Trump claimed without evidence that if not for voter fraud he would have won the popular vote in 2016 in addition to the Electoral College vote. The commission was disbanded in 2018.

Critics said Gardner’s participation in the commission lent credibility to unfounded claims, which served as a precursor to Trump’s current claims — also unfounded — that the 2020 election was stolen from him.

The issue made for the hardest re-election fight in Gardner’s long career.

In December 2018, Gardner defeated Democratic former Executive Councilor Colin Van Ostern by a razor-thin margin. Gardner’s participation in Trump’s commission energized Van Ostern’s campaign.

On Monday, Gardner said this is a good time to step down as there are no major elections until the midterms in November.

He said there was no single reason for leaving state government.

“It was time,” he said.

Gov. Chris Sununu released a statement praising Gardner’s work.

“Granite Staters owe a tremendous debt of gratitude to Secretary of State Bill Gardner,” he said. “For decades, Bill Gardner has fiercely protected New Hampshire’s First in the Nation presidential primary and overseen our elections that are truly a point of pride for our state — always open, fair, accessible, and accurate.”

House Speaker Sherman Packard, R-Londonderry, said Gardner always had voters’ best interests in mind.

“During his 23-term tenure, he worked hard to protect the sanctity of every vote cast in NH,” Packard said in a prepared statement. “He was a steadfast leader and truly believed in working together to better our state and making sure the people of NH were heard.”