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Prosecutor feared dead in copter crash

Army Reservist was in Afghanistan

After less than a year prosecuting street criminals as a Suffolk assistant district attorney, David S. Connolly got another call from the Army Reserve. The North End lawyer, who had already completed a tour in Iraq, learned last fall his transportation unit would be sent to Afghanistan.

Last week, the CH-47 Chinook helicopter transporting the 37-year-old captain crashed about 80 miles south of Kabul, the Afghan capital, as it returned from delivering mail, supplies, and personnel, National Guard officials said yesterday.

Connolly was one of 15 military personnel and three civilians aboard the flight, said Major Winfield S. Danielson III, a spokesman for the Massachusetts National Guard. Although no one survived, officials have yet to identify their remains, he said.

''He was a hero to us," said Suffolk District Attorney Daniel F. Conley, who hired Connolly in 2003. ''Word that he may have been on that helicopter has devastated our office. He was very respected. He struck me as a young man who wanted to make a difference, who could see the greater good."

The military officially has listed Connolly as ''whereabouts unknown," and family and friends held out hope. ''We're praying for a miracle," Conley said.

Raised in Newton in a family with five brothers and two sisters, Connolly graduated from the former Newton Catholic High School (now Trinity Catholic), relatives said.

He entered the Army Reserve Officers' Training Corps at Boston College, from which he graduated in 1994. Connolly would be the first Boston College graduate to die in action since Vietnam, said D. Michael Ryan, associate dean of students, who oversaw Connolly as a young cadet in the ROTC program.

''He was an outstanding young man, respected by the other cadets in the program, as well as students who were not in ROTC," Ryan said. ''He was one of those guys who could be in the program and could just fit in with college students everywhere. He was very unassuming, but a strong leader."

After college, Connolly entered active duty, where he served with the Army Rangers, Conley said. He later went to Suffolk University Law School, graduating in 2003.

Conley offered him a job soon afterward. He was one of about a dozen young lawyers who landed a position out of a pool of about 600 candidates. ''In our interview, he talked about an interest in public service," Conley said. ''He was really about helping people."

Connolly accepted the offer, but the military activated his unit and sent him to Iraq. He returned and started working in the district attorney's office in June 2004.

Connolly was one of about 125 assistant district attorneys in Suffolk County and about 10 at the Boston Municipal Court, where he prosecuted everyone from those accused of assault to those charged with drug offenses, Conley said.

Connolly married in April 2003, a month before his mother died of cancer, relatives said. His father died that June of a heart attack. His wife, Debra Connolly, a nurse at Massachusetts General Hospital, could not be reached yesterday. They had no children, relatives said.

''He was a great guy, with great compassion," said Madonna Basilici, his aunt, who lives in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. ''He was a wonderful person. He was extremely patriotic. He always felt like he had a duty to serve the country."

Connolly served in the Army Reserve's 1173d Transportation Battalion, based in Brockton.

Connolly's helicopter crashed as it returned to Bagram, the US base north of Kabul. Officials reported no sign of enemy fire. They suggested bad visibility and strong winds may have caused a pilot error or a technical problem.

All the remains have been taken to Bagram and will be flown to Dover Air Force Base in Delaware for identification, officials said.

About 17,000 US soldiers are in Afghanistan, training a new army and fighting a continuing Taliban-led insurgency, which has revived in recent months.

As of April 8, more than 120 US service members had died in and around Afghanistan since the war began shortly after Sept. 11, 2001, according to the Pentagon.

Officials at the district attorney's office said they learned Connolly was missing on Thursday, a day after the helicopter crashed. Conley sent a memo to his staff, asking for their prayers.

As recently as last week, the Massachusetts District Attorneys Association honored Connolly at a dinner. He was one of only two of the 650 assistant district attorneys in the state who had been on active military duty.

''There was a spontaneous eruption of applause, a standing ovation that lasted for several minutes," Conley said. ''We didn't know anything at that point. He was supposed to be back this June."

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