Eleven months after the suicide of Elizabeth Mun following a party in Andover, Laurie Zimmerman says she is speaking out because her children continue to be negatively affected by misconceptions surrounding the 16-year-old Wellesley girl's death.
Mun, a Concord Academy classmate of Zachary Zimmerman's, was found unresponsive in Hussey Brook Pond in the early morning of Feb. 15, 2009 after leaving a party at the Zimmerman's William Street home. The medical examiner later ruled Mun's death a suicide, and "that her consumption of alcohol was not a contributory factor to her death," said Essex Assistant District Attorney Jessica Connors at an August court hearing.
Relying on documents she said she obtained as part of the court case against her son Zachary, Zimmerman revealed details including that Mun had been told by her parents that they were splitting up, had written three apparent suicide notes before coming to the house party, and that Mun had no alcohol in her system at the time of her death. The Townsman did not view all the documents in detail and could not take copies of them.
"My heart breaks for this young lady," Zimmerman said. "We were so sorry for her. That's why we kept silent until now."
"It has been a terrible year for us, one that my kids did not deserve. We chose to stay quiet so that this young woman could be buried with dignity, and no one came forward and told the truth about what she did. It all fell on Zachary," according to Zimmerman. "She was an acquaintance, not a close friend. She was not invited. She was a troubled girl who showed up here with a mission, and that was to say goodbye to her boyfriend, who happened to be here that night."
Following Mun's suicide, Zachary wasn't allowed to attend graduation with his classmates and was denied entry to several colleges after Concord Academy had him write letters informing the colleges of his arrest. Zachary and his younger sister, an Andover High student, have been snubbed and called names by their peers, said Laurie Zimmerman. Some parents of Zoe's friends won't allow their children to go to the Zimmerman home, and during one of Zoe's classes at Andover High School, a teacher made the incident into a lesson against underage drinking. The teacher has confirmed this.
Zimmerman showed Mun's autopsy, which indicates she did not have any alcohol in her system the night of Feb. 14, but had slit her wrists and ingested several Ritalin pills, a drug meant for patients with attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder. She also said that the autopsy showed "linear abrasions" on Mun's legs.
Zimmerman also showed three apparent suicide notes written by Mun, marked as court evidence. Mun slipped one of the notes, written to her boyfriend Josh, into his pocket while she was at the party, said Zimmerman.
"This young lady was crying for help ... This (Mun's suicide) was planned long before she came to my house," said Zimmerman. "The question of why did she do it — she didn't do anything because of my son."
Steve O'Connell, spokesperson for the Essex County District Attorney's office, said the office does not comment on cases in court and would not comment out of respect for the Mun family. A call to Jessica Connors, prosecutor in the case, was not returned before deadline. Sue Lee Mun, Elizabeth's mom, was not immediately available on deadline.
In August, Zachary Zimmerman, 19, pleaded not guilty to charges of providing alcohol to minors at the Feb. 14 overnight party, which is said to have involved fewer than 20 people. A pre-trial conference was held Tuesday and the case is continued to Feb. 8, said O'Connell. That night, Zachary had driven another student, Morgan Ingari, to a liquor store, where she purchased beer and vodka with a fake ID, said Zimmerman.
Zachary plead not guilty in August so the family could have access to court documents they had not seen, including the autopsy, hoping to get answers, said Zimmerman.
Ingari, 18, was also charged with providing alcohol to minors. She appeared in court on Aug. 20 with Zimmerman, and admitted to sufficient facts in the case.
Not all of the evidence taken by police investigators on Feb. 15 was alcohol consumed at the party, said Zimmerman. Authorities also confiscated empty beer and wine bottles set aside to be recycled after a New Year's Eve party thrown by Laurie Zimmerman, she said.
Laurie Zimmerman describes herself as a homebody, who never travels and rarely leaves home. It was a surprise Valentine's get-away to New Hampshire with her boyfriend of two years, Doug Finkle, that took her out of Andover on the evening of Feb. 14.
The couple was awakened by an early-morning phone call from Zachary, asking them to come home after Mun left the house, she said.
"My kids and I are extraordinarily close, they tell me everything. We've been the three musketeers for so long," said Zimmerman, 49.
The Valentine's Day party started as a small gathering of Zachary's classmates from Concord Academy, said Zimmerman, to play music and hang out. Zoe, now 15, was also home the night of the party.
"(Zachary) has never been in trouble of any kind. He's not a big partier. He's not one of those kids you read about in the police report," said Zimmerman. "As always happens, kids bring kids."
The next week, all of the party-goers faced disciplinary action from Concord Academy, Zimmerman said, but none as harsh as Zachary.
Zachary Zimmerman received a one-year suspension, said Pamela Safford, Concord Academy's associate head for communications, enrollment, and planning. Because he was a senior, the suspension "effectively ended his CA career," she wrote in an e-mail.
"The school didn't wait to hear any of the details (of what happened)," said Zimmerman who later wrote in an e-mail, "The school made the most rash decision possible without waiting for the truth to come out. The Mun family quickly established the Elizabeth J. Mun Scholarship Fund, but at no time did anyone from her family ask for Zach to be separated from what she did."
Day students from the party were suspended for five days, and boarding students for 10; Morgan Ingari was suspended for six months, said Zimmerman.
Zachary had a clean disciplinary record, said Zimmerman, and others from the party had several prior discipline offenses.
Zachary finished the one high school credit he needed at Worcester Polytechnic Institute. He was given his Concord Academy diploma privately by the headmaster in his office, said Zimmerman.
"He was permitted to complete his studies elsewhere and receive a diploma-out-of-course from Concord Academy," wrote Safford. "He was not permitted to take part in any school-related functions, including commencement."
Concord Academy would not release Zachary's transcript until he wrote to all of the colleges he had been accepted to, including several Ivy League schools, telling them of his arrest, said Zimmerman.
Safford said Concord Academy's school handbook requires seniors to report to colleges "any disciplinary action that results in probation, suspension, or expulsion during the senior year."
One by one, rejection letters came in the mail from colleges, said Zimmerman. Only the University of Vermont accepted Zachary.
New York University's reply said the school was writing Zachary's acceptance letter when they received his letter, and rescinded their acceptance, she said.
Zachary has settled into studies at the environmental school at UVM, said Zimmerman, and hopes to become an environmental lawyer or lobbyist.
A request was made to speak with Zachary Zimmerman, who was not available during the Townsman's interview with Laurie Zimmerman.
"I chose for him to not be involved, because this has weighed heavily on him and he just wants this to be over. He just wants to put this behind him," said Laurie Zimmerman in an e-mail. "At the end of the day, if you remove a preconceived suicide from the equation, this was just a few kids having a small, quiet party. I do not condone the fact that they had a party, but my son should not be held responsible for Elizabeth's troubles."