Journalist Lauren Chooljian came home last month to discover that a brick had been thrown through the front window of her home in Melrose, Mass. On the white siding just below the shattered glass, the vandal had spray-painted an ominous warning in big, red letters.
Police in four towns are investigating the five incidents. On Thursday, Middlesex County District Attorney Marian Ryan in Massachusetts released video footage of a vandal hurling a brick into Chooljian’s home and asked anyone with information about his identity to contact police. Ryan said investigators are considering the possibility that the attacks are linked to Chooljian’s work as a senior reporter and producer for New Hampshire Public Radio. The possible motive: revenge for stories she published in the past, intimidation to silence her in the future, or both.
“That obviously involves some First Amendment concerns and is much more disturbing,” Ryan said at Thursday’s news conference.
On Tuesday, Chooljian posted a photo on Twitter of her broken window and the graffitied caption below it. Someone had tagged her boss’s front door with a misogynistic slur using the same kind of red spray paint, she wrote in the tweet, and did the same thing to her parents’ garage on two separate occasions.
“It’s not okay,” she said.
5 incidents of vandalism targeting journalists.— Lauren Chooljian (@laurenchooljian) May 31, 2022
The c-word spray-painted in red on my parents’ garage. 2 separate times.
The c-word in red on @danielbarrick’s front door. And on a house I used to live in. Bricks thrown through windows.
Here’s my house. It’s not okay. pic.twitter.com/N6KJnOmsJt
Chooljian’s most recent work exposed allegations of sexual misconduct against Eric Spofford, a recovering drug addict who got clean and built New Hampshire’s largest network of addiction treatment centers. Since 2019, the state of New Hampshire has awarded the network that Spofford founded, Granite Recovery Centers, more than $3 million in no-bid contracts, according to her reporting.
Chooljian’s investigative project, which published in March, led New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu (R), who appeared alongside Spofford in July during a news conference at Granite Recovery Centers, to call the accusations against Spofford “very serious” and say “they have to be taken seriously and investigated.”
After Chooljian’s home was vandalized, Melrose Police Chief Michael Lyle told New Hampshire Public Radio that he “would certainly think [Spofford] may be interviewed by the authorities.”
“After the article came out, all this trouble started for the reporter or the news organization. At some point [investigators] may have a conversation with him,” Lyle said, according to the radio station.
Spofford did not immediately respond to a request for comment from The Washington Post early Wednesday. But in a statement his lawyers gave to the radio station, Spofford denied any involvement in the attacks and said that the news coverage of the vandalism was a “coordinated attack” to stop him from suing for defamation over Chooljian’s recent articles.
“Not only was I completely uninvolved with these incidents of vandalism, I also do not support or condone them. I also don’t need to vandalize someone’s property. I have truth on my side and I will vindicate myself through lawful means,” Spofford told the station in the statement provided by his lawyers.
New Hampshire Public Radio president and chief executive Jim Schachter declined to talk about possible suspects with WBUR but denounced the vandalism as “crude, senseless attacks” that wouldn’t stop Chooljian or the radio station from continuing their work.
“That reporting by Lauren and our newsroom is outstanding reporting that no one is going to intimidate our newsroom from continuing to pursue, wherever it takes them,” Schachter said.
Fellow journalists have rallied behind Chooljian and her boss, news director Dan Barrick, whose home was also vandalized.
In a tweet Saturday, an NPR reporter called them “two of the best colleagues I’ve ever had, journalists of the highest integrity,” adding: “It’s NOT OK.” A fellow reporter at New Hampshire Public Radio called Chooljian and Barrick “outstanding journalists and wonderful human beings” and said that even those who don’t know them should be “saddened and outraged” by people attacking reporters.
Katie Colaneri, also a New Hampshire Public Radio journalist, struck a similar note in her tweet: “Violent vandalism and threats against journalists — and anyone speaking truth to power — is unacceptable and reprehensible,” she wrote. “I stand by my colleagues … & their families.”