WINDHAM, NH -- UPDATE 1:24 P.M. In the wake of the apparent drowning death of a local state representative's 3-year-old daughter, friends are doing what they can to help Rick Okerman's family during the grieving process.
Rep. David Bates, also of Windham, said that the Southern N.H. 9-12 Project is combining with the Crossing Life Church to help arrange meals for Okerman and his family members.
Crossing Life is run by Windham resident Shawn Foster.
"It's obviously a horrible tragedy – we're trying to be there for Rick and his family," Bates said. "The Crossing Life Church and the members of our 9-12 group are going to start pitching in. Obviously the kids and family need to continue to be taken care of."
Windham Police were informed at approximately 3:30 a.m. on Monday that Gabriella Okerman died after being pulled from a family pool on Sunday afternoon.
Since learning of Gabriella's death, Bates has spoken directly with Okerman's mother-in-law and House Speaker William O'Brien.
Bates explained that the family is "understandably keeping everyone at a distance right now."
As for the rest of the New Hampshire General Court, Bates said that the incident impacts even those who weren't close with Okerman.
"Obviously Rick wasn't close friends with all 424 members, but we're all part of the same group, the same body, and that is a connection there that makes this much more close to home than just reading about a stranger's tragedy in the paper," Bates said.
Windham Rep. Charlie McMahon and his wife Kim also issued condolences to the Okerman family:
It is with sincere sorrow that we learn of the tragic loss of the Okerman family's beloved daughter, Gabriella. We cannot fathom the pain the family now suffers in bearing this loss but pray they find the strength to withstand this terrible event. Our family stands ready to assist in any way we can to sustain the family through this most difficult of times.
Board of Selectmen Chairman Bruce Breton said that he has known Okerman for eight or nine years with both serving on the town's Planning Board together.
"I'm deeply saddened by the passing away of Rick's daughter," Breton said.
He called Okerman an upstanding citizen who is very family-oriented.
Note: An "Okerman Family Memorial Fund" was established by David Bates on Monday afternoon through Citizens Bank in an effort to help offset funeral costs.
Bates said that people can make contributions by depositing money into the fund at any Citizens Bank location or by sending checks made out to the fund to the Windham location at 115 Indian Rock Road; Windham, NH; 03087.
AN EARLIER STORY FOLLOWS
Windham police have announced that the toddler pulled from a backyard pool in Windham on Sunday has died.
According to a release from Windham Police Capt. Mike Caron, the department was informed of the death just after 3:30 a.m.
Windham Patch reported last night that Windham Police and Fire responded to a 3-year-old who had been pulled from a pool. At the time, it was indicated to officials that she had been in the water for about five minutes.
The address, 3 Marblehead Road, is listed as the home of State Representative Richard Okerman, and WMUR has since confirmed with Okerman's grandfather that the girl is his daughter.
The Eagle Tribune identified the daughter this morning as Gabriella Okerman. The paper also reported that she has two siblings – a sister named Michaela and a brother named Nick.
Windham police did not have any additional information on the incident. It remains under investigation by members of the department.
This is the second drowning in Windham in less than a month. A 41-year-old man was pulled from Canobie Lake in late June and was later pronounced dead.
House Speaker William O'Brien issued this statement on the passing of Representative Okerman's daughter:
"It is with great sadness that I learned of the passing of Rep. Rick Okerman’s daughter. Words cannot describe the unspeakable tragedy of losing one’s child and how it forever changes the parents who have been affected. The House of Representatives will keep Rick and his family in our thoughts and prayers at this heartbreaking time for them. As a parent and a grandparent, I can only imagine the pain for them and how much they need our support right now.”
Windham Republican Committee Chair Travis Blais said that he has known Okerman for about five years, and added that their kids are similar in age.
"I see them at the schools, at the Strawberry Festival," Blais said.
Blais called the incident a tragedy that "breaks the heart of all Windham families."
"I know our town will come together as a community to support the Okerman Family in this time of unimaginable distress, Blais added. "Whatever they need, let's please be there."
Salem Rep. Ron Belanger, who serves in Rockingham District 4 with Okerman and all the other Salem and Windham representatives, said he was "devastated" by the news of Okerman's loss.
"No one can imagine what goes through the mind of a mother and father after something like this," said Belanger, who has known Okerman for about six years.
Belanger lauded Okerman as a "very good representative and Republican" for the people of Windham and Salem.
"All of the hearts of the 400 representatives as well as the Senate are with (the Okerman family)," Belanger said.
Windham resident Ken Eyring, who has known Okerman for about two years and worked with him to recently start up the Southern N.H. 9-12 Project in town, said he was "at a loss for words" regarding the news.
"(My family and I) hope that they find a way to get through this difficult time," Eyring said of Okerman and his family.
CORRECTION: An earlier edition of this story read that police and fire officials pulled the 3-year-old girl from the pool.
It was supposed to read that she was out of the pool when officials arrived. Police or fire did not indicate who found the girl or pulled her from the pool.