Stepson recounts a night of alcohol

N.H. suspect set to be arraigned

Although Hillary Clinton’s campaign headquarters at 28 Main St. in Rochester, N.H., was closed yesterday, members of the media continued to monitor the scene. Throughout Rochester, residents were swapping stories about the hostage crisis.
Although Hillary Clinton’s campaign headquarters at 28 Main St. in Rochester, N.H., was closed yesterday, members of the media continued to monitor the scene. Throughout Rochester, residents were swapping stories about the hostage crisis. (Mark Wilson/ Globe Staff)
Email|Print| Text size + By Megan Woolhouse and James Pindell
Globe Staff and Globe Correspondent / December 2, 2007

ROCHESTER, N.H. - In the hours before he allegedly took five people hostage at Hillary Clinton's campaign office Friday, Leeland Eisenberg sat drinking rum and cokes with his stepson in his trailer.

He drank heavily, and in a fog of frustration and delusion, said he could no longer afford his medication for bipolar disorder, his stepson, Benjamin Warren, said by phone last night. Unemployed, Eisenberg had no money to see a doctor; a local hospital turned him away when he went for help, Warren said.

Warren said his stepfather saw a solution: He had recently watched one of Clinton's campaign advertisements touting how she helped an underinsured boy get a bone marrow transplant. The two men talked until 4 a.m., and Eisenberg kept returning to the subject.

"He kept asking for Hillary; he wanted to talk to Hillary," Warren said. "He thought if he did something extreme, she'd help him, too."

Eisenberg, 46, brought life in this working-class community of 31,000 to a standstill when he appeared at Clinton's campaign office early Friday afternoon with what appeared to be a bomb strapped to his waist, police say. The device was fake, fashioned with road flares and a mock detonator, but the threat terrorized five campaign workers and grabbed national headlines.

Eisenberg now faces charges that include four counts of kidnapping, one count of criminal threatening, and one count for use of false explosives, Captain Paul Callaghan, a police spokesman, said at a press conference yesterday. All six of the charges are Class B felonies, for which the maximum penalty, exclusive of a fine, is imprisonment of between one and seven years, Callaghan said. Federal authorities could also file charges, he said.

Callaghan said Rochester police had been aware of Eisenberg for approximately two years, but refused to say how, citing concerns that it would impede the criminal investigation.

When he entered the campaign headquarters Friday about 1 p.m., Eisenberg was neatly dressed in gray slacks, a white dress shirt, and a red tie. Yesterday, police released a mugshot taken Friday night in which he wore a beige prison shirt and his hair was disheveled. He will be arraigned via videolink tomorrow afternoon in Rochester District Court. He is being held at Strafford County Jail in nearby Dover.

A Rochester police log published on the website of the Foster's Daily Democrat shows that Eisenberg was charged in April with two counts of stalking, and in June with driving while intoxicated.

Several months ago, Eisenberg moved with his wife, Lisa, into a Somersworth, N.H., trailer park. She recently filed for divorce, citing irreconcilable differences. She also contended that her husband suffered from "severe alcohol and drug abuse" and that she was the victim of "severe verbal abuse and threats," according to the Foster's Daily Democrat.

Warren, her son, said Eisenberg and his mother have been married about two years. The two split last week, moving into separate trailers. He said Eisenberg might have suspected that his mother had plans to file for divorce, but on Thursday night he didn't seem to know that she had already done so.

Warren, 22, who recently moved back to New Hampshire from South Carolina, said he asked Eisenberg if he could sleep at his trailer when his plans to meet a friend in Maine fell through. The two talked for hours, he said.

"I've never seen Lee that wound up," Warren said. "Lee is a very intelligent person. Even when he's real good and drunk, he's still smart and pretty in touch with himself. He just repeated himself a lot."

Warren added: "All he said to me was he was feeling very depressed and he was going to do something the next day to ensure he would be in the hospital by Friday night."

The next day, Eisenberg asked Warren if he could buy flares at the local convenience store. The answer was no, but Warren said he told him he could get them at an auto parts shop.

Warren said he told his sister about Eisenberg's behavior on Friday morning. He said they both thought he might launch the flares from the top of a building as a way to draw attention and get some help.

Throughout Rochester residents were swapping stories yesterday, recounting how they learned of the hostage situation. Merchants fled their downtown stores.

"I grabbed my jacket, opened the door - and I saw the policeman standing there with an assault rifle, and I started running," said Cassandra Hamilton, 25, who sells vacuum cleaners. "It was pretty nerve-wracking."

Clinton volunteer Dan Nagy said by phone last night that he called one of the hostages four or five times during the standoff to make sure she was not in imminent danger.

"She was really hysterical," said Nagy. "He kept telling them it was OK, and he wasn't going to hurt them. But you never know with someone unstable like that."

Nagy said he would have been working that day at the campaign office had he not had a doctor's appointment.

The Clinton office remained closed yesterday. Two doors down, the offices of Barack Obama's campaign were also closed, although some supporters for Obama could be seen about noon carrying yard signs out of the office.

With about a month left before the New Hampshire primaries, some national and local campaign officials said yesterday that they did not plan to take extra security measures at their offices.

A picture painted through court papers, news accounts, and interviews with neighbors depicts Eisenberg as a man who was abused by his father and his priest, and was later incarcerated in Massachusetts facilities for sexual offenders.

In the early 1980s, when the Groton native was about 21, Eisenberg was homeless.

Dealing with the psychological toll of the death of his mother and with a "violent, alcoholic" father, he sought refuge at St. Catherine's Parish in Westford, according to a 2002 court filing.

At some point, Eisenberg changed his name, from Ralph E. Woodward Jr. to Leeland Eli Eisenberg.

The church gave him work and a place to sleep.

By Eisenberg's account, he then was befriended by a priest and targeted for sexual abuse, according to court papers filed about two decades later. The priest would take him to a local restaurant and buy him alcoholic beverages, later forcing him to view pornographic materials. After being sexually assaulted in the driveway of the rectory, Eisenberg packed his bags and left, according to the court papers.

The Globe reported yesterday that Eisenberg was one of 541 victims of clergy sexual abuse scandal who received payments in the landmark 2003 settlement with the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Boston.

In 1999 and 2000, Eisenberg was incarcerated in a facility for sexual offenders at Bridgewater State Hospital, according to state court records. He was later transferred to MCI-Concord, the records show and was released in March 2005.

Officials at the Massachusetts Department of Correction have declined to specify the crime or the length of the sentence, but The Lowell Sun reported five years ago that in 1986 he forced a woman at knifepoint in Leominster to perform oral sex on him. He was given a 12- to 20-year sentence.

Eisenberg, who called CNN during Friday's standoff, told the news network that he wanted to talk to Clinton by phone about getting psychiatric care that he could not afford.

ABC News reported late yesterday that upon entering the office, Eisenberg cited one of the Clinton campaign's widely seen New Hampshire commercials. The commercial features a New Yorker recounting how Clinton helped his son get a bone marrow transplant that their insurance would not cover.

Warren said he and his family were angry at Eisenberg as events unfolded on Friday. That has slowly changed, he said.

"Now that I've kind of calmed down, I kind of feel bad [for him]," Warren said. "I wish the whole situation with healthcare was different."

Matt Viser and Anna Badkhen of the Globe staff and correspondent Michael Naughton contributed to this report.

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