CHITTENDEN — The regular morning gathering around the coffee pots at the Wooden Barrel Country Store here has been somber the past two mornings without Bernard Congdon, the Select Board member shot and killed in his home last week. "It's all everyone has been talking about at coffee hour," said Mark Hayes, an employee of the store, which Congdon visited frequently. "Everybody's still in shock. We've never had a murder here and nobody knows how to react." Not many people in Chittenden called him Bernard. Most knew him as Bernie. They called him a "super" guy, a hard worker; one Chittenden resident went so far as to call him bubbly. "A tremendous loss to the community," said Jake Niering of Chittenden, taking a moment to talk about Congdon before going fishing. "There was not a bad bone in his body. People are going to be scrambling to replace him, to find someone who got as involved as he did." Congdon's son Aaron, 16, has been accused of fatally shooting his father Thursday at the home they shared on Powerhouse Road. Aaron Congdon pleaded innocent Monday in Rutland District Court to first-degree murder and was ordered jailed on $500,000 bail If convicted, he faces up to life in prison. Congdon was arrested Sunday, and police said he confessed to the crime, telling them he had been thinking about killing his father for "some time." Neither his attorney nor the prosecutor has provided a motive for the shooting. Bernard Congdon was a fixture in Chittenden who was first elected to the town Select Board on Town Meeting Day in 2002. In an interview at that time, he said he thought it was important for residents to become involved in local government, and he encouraged others to participate. "I'd like to see people come to at least one meeting a year," Congdon said. "I think if they attended, they would find it as interesting as I have." His community involvement and availability to those seeking information about town politics was something Niering appreciated about Congdon. He could be counted on to give a straight answer, Niering said. "He was a really good selectman, took it very seriously and was very fair," added David Sargent, chairman of the Chittenden Board of Selectmen. "He was a really good fella, would do anything for you." The board is scheduled to meet Monday, and the protocol for filling his vacant seat appears unclear. "For the time being my recommendation is to let things settle," Sargent said. "We just kind of have to wait and play it out at this point." He said he believes it would be disrespectful to immediately elect someone to replace Congdon on the five-member board. Niering runs a business similar to Congdon's, doing contract work for people in the neighborhood and plowing snow in the winter. "It was a great relationship, not competitive at all," Niering said. Niering moved to Chittenden five years ago and vividly recalls the night he met Congdon, a self-employed contractor. "I was plowing snow late one night and so was he. It was cold," Niering said. "We were enjoying each others' misery." The question on the minds of many town residents this week has been, why? If, as police allege, his son fatally shot Congdon, what led his son to do it? Aaron Congdon stopped attending classes at Rutland High School in January, according to school officials. Aaron Congdon's mother died nearly two years ago in a motorcycle crash, and some of his friends said he'd had a hard time moving on. One man at the town store, who asked that his name be withheld, said Aaron Congdon showed little emotion after his mother's death. Bernard Congdon, a lifelong Chittenden resident, married Pamela Hesse in January 1977. Aaron Congdon was born in August 1990. Hesse filed for divorce from Congdon in December 1997, stating in court records that she had been separated from Congdon for six months. In the two-page filing, Hesse does not state a reason for seeking a divorce. She wrote that the "resumption of marital relations" between the two was "not reasonably probable." Hesse filed for a restraining order against Congdon in 1997. Because of the date of the filing, the restraining order could not be immediately accessed Tuesday. The filings in the divorce proceeding do not allege any physical abuse in the relationship. In September 1998, Judge Patricia Zimmerman granted the couple's divorce, awarding the two parents joint legal responsibility of their son. Hesse was granted primary custody and Congdon was permitted regular contact with Aaron, including on weekends, holidays, and half of the son's summer vacation. The divorce order also stated, "Neither party shall use any prescription medicines or drugs not prescribed by a physician when Aaron is with him or her, and neither party shall use alcohol to excess when Aaron is with him or her." About two years later, Bernard Congdon submitted papers seeking primary custody of Aaron. Aaron had been living with his father by agreement with Hesse since February 1999, the papers said. "Since he has started living with (Congdon), the minor child has been provided with a safe, healthy and loving environment in which he has thrived," the papers said. "The minor child is doing well in school and his behavior has continued to improve, since moving out of (Hesse's) residence." It is unclear how the matter was resolved. The two parties reached an accord without a hearing, according to court records. In August 2005, Hesse died in an early morning motorcycle crash on Route 133 in West Rutland. Hesse was a passenger on a motorcycle that went out of control, left the roadway and struck several utility poles and signs. The family had experienced loss before. More than two decades earlier, in 1981, Hesse's sister, Patricia Hesse, mysteriously disappeared from her Rutland apartment and was never seen again, with nothing missing from her apartment and her dinner still cooking on the stove. Pamela Hesse speculated at the time that foul play had been involved in her 35-year-old sister's disappearance. Two years after her sister went missing, Pamela Hesse said she had given up her efforts to prove her sister was murdered. "If I couldn't prove anything two years ago, I certainly can't prove it now," Pamela Hesse said in 1983. "I've obviously let someone get away with something, but there's nothing I can do about it." Now, her son is charged with killing his father. In his filing Monday requesting a court-appointed public defender, Aaron Congdon listed a monthly income of $365 from social security payments, and monthly expenses of $365. Also on the form, Congdon omitted a middle name or initial. His middle name is Bernard. Contact Alan J. Keays at alan.keays@rutlandherald.com and contact Sarah Hinckley at sarah.hinckley@rutlandherald.com.

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