By NANCY WEST, InDepthNH.org
MERRIMACK – Three people were arrested Monday accused of vandalizing Israeli-based defense contractor Elbit System’s Merrimack facility at 220 Daniel Webster Highway during a pro-Palestine protest.
Merrimack Police received calls from Elbit employees just before 8 a.m. saying protesters were blocking the driveway and numerous people were believed to be on the roof.
The incident drew fast reaction from Republican Gov. Chris Sununu and other officials in support of Israel.
“The antisemitism, hate, and significant damage protesters brought to Elbit America’s campus this morning has no place in our state and will not be tolerated,” Sununu said. “I am confident law enforcement will work to bring those responsible for this vile act of hate to swift justice. The people of New Hampshire stand with Israel and with Elbit Systems of America.”
Mike Garrity, spokesman for Attorney General John Formella said: “Our Civil Rights Unit is aware of the incident and is working with Merrimack Police as well as our state and federal partners to investigate further.”
On Monday morning, the Merrimack Fire Department was dispatched due to a report of smoke coming from the roof.
“Upon arrival, officers encountered a number of protesters blocking the driveway voicing support for Palestine.
“They eventually vacated the roadway and allowed responding officers to access the property. Upon meeting with security personnel, officers discovered the front of the building had been spray painted with red paint, windows had been smashed, and at least one of the main lobby doors had been locked shut via a bicycle anti-theft device,” Merrimack police said in a news release.
The release said three people who had accessed the roof were arrested without incident: Sophie Marika Ross, 22, of Housatonic, Mass., Cala Mairead Walsh, 19, of Cambridge, Mass., and Bridget Irene Shergalis, 27, of Dayville, Conn. They were all charged with Riot, Sabotage, Criminal Mischief, Criminal Trespass, and Disorderly Conduct.
Elbit America’s leadership released the following statement: “Elbit America employs thousands of Americans who are dedicated to the mission of creating innovative solutions that protect and save lives. We support the rights of protesters to peacefully express their views. However, what we experienced today was violent criminal behavior as evidenced by the arrests made by local law enforcement. We take the safety and well-being of our employees extremely seriously, and we will continue to work closely with local officials to ensure safety for all.
“More than 650 employees work at Elbit America’s Merrimack site providing a variety of defense, commercial aviation, sustainment & support, and medical instrumentation solutions in large part to American customers from the U.S. government to local health providers,” the statement said.
Merrimack Police said evidence suggested that the smoke was caused by an incendiary device similar to ones later located on one of the suspects.
While clearing the roof, police found more damage – spray painting, smashed skylights, and damage to HVAC equipment.
Those arrested were held on preventative detention and will be arraigned in the Hillsborough County Superior Court (South) on Tuesday at 1 p.m.
Merrimack Police asked anyone with information to call (603) 424- 3774, or to report anonymously, through Merrimack Crimeline at (603) 424-2424.
Senate President Jeb Bradley, R-Wolfeboro, said he was appalled by the vandalism.
“Elbit Systems is an Israeli owned company that employs over 600 workers in the Granite State and helps produce equipment for our aerospace and defense sectors.
“New Hampshire’s location in Merrimack, as well as others across the country, have been hit with protests and vandalism since Oct. 12,” Bradley said.
He said the state has seen a steady rise in anti-Semitism, “and we continue to condemn this behavior. The Senate stands with Israel and supports this Israeli business that provides countless economic opportunities for Granite Staters.”
State Sen. Donna Soucy, D-Manchester, said, “The destruction of property that took place this morning at Elbit Systems of America in Merrimack by a group of individuals has no place in our communities….
“Although we fiercely defend the right of every citizen to peacefully have their voice be heard, the actions taken today cross beyond protected free speech and into hateful, criminal action.
“We unequivocally stand against anti-Semitism in any form, and we will continue to support the Jewish community, especially as instances of hate continue to be on the rise. More than anything, we will not stand for hate to take root in New Hampshire,” Soucy said.