Merrimack Valley student and lover of the water lost his life in weekend drowning

Monitor staff
Published: 8/3/2020 4:35:38 PM

A Merrimack Valley High School student who drowned Saturday night in the Merrimack River is being remembered as a loyal friend, a hard worker and a lover of the outdoors.

Zach Lacy, 15, was going to be a junior at Merrimack Valley this fall. He lost his life while swimming with friends near Oxbow Pond Road in Canterbury, which is far south of Pebble Beach and just north of the Hannah Duston Memorial.

“He was a great kid, who always made us laugh. He was so full of life,” said family friend Patrick Malfait, who employed Lacy at Contoocook River Canoe Company in Concord. “It’s very sad to lose someone so young. It’s really taking a toll on our staff.”

New Hampshire Marine Patrol is still investigating the circumstances leading up to the drowning, but officials said this past weekend that the 15-year-old began to struggle and went under the water before witnesses could come to his aid. He did not resurface.

Concord Deputy Fire Chief Sean Brown, who responded to the 911 call, said by phone Monday that both city and Boscawen firefighters launched boats into the river, and that it was ultimately a member of the Concord Fire Department who dove into the water to retrieve Lacy.

“Every effort was made to revive the individual when he was found, both in the boat and on the way to the hospital,” Brown said.

Lacy was ultimately pronounced dead at Concord Hospital.

Firefighters located and retrieved Lacy from the water at approximately 7:33 p.m. About one hour and 20 minutes passed between the initial 911 call and the discovery of his body, Brown said.

“This particular area is not close to any of the boat launches or the beaches that many in the community are most familiar with right now, like Pebble Beach where the other recent drownings occurred,” Brown said. “We had challenges in locating him and getting him to a transfer point and onto an ambulance as we weren’t right near a beach.”

Authorities believe Lacy and his friends entered the Merrimack River in the area of Jamie Welch Memorial Park in Boscawen, and that some of them may have been tubing at one time.

Marine Patrol Lt. Crystal McLain said Monday that witness interviews will continue over the next few days to help authorities get a better understanding of the moments leading up to the drowning.

“I can confirm that he was swimming at the time,” McLain said.

She declined Monday to identify Lacy by name, citing the ongoing investigation and a need to review the department’s protocols on releasing the identity of minors. However, family friends, in addition to Merrimack Valley school officials have publicly identified Lacy as the 15-year-old who drowned Saturday night.

Merrimack Valley Superintendent Mark MacLean wrote Monday in an email to the Monitor that as soon as the district received word of Lacy’s passing, administrators and school counselors have engaged in outreach and support efforts. He said Principal David Miller spoke with the Lacy family and then sent out follow-up communication to parents, students and staff that included the teenager’s name, and the district’s deepest sympathies to his loved ones.

Miller told parents that counselors are available all week to support students and their families, and that he had reached out to local mental health response organizations, including New Hampshire’s Disaster Behavioral Health Response Team, to assist the district.

News of Lacy’s death reached Malfait and staff at Contoocook River Canoe Company quickly over the weekend. Malfait said a couple of Lacy’s close friends and co-workers were among the first to know, and that he followed up on the information by reaching out to the Lacy family to share his condolences. Lacy had worked for the canoe company for about two years.

“His mother has so many friends who are supporting her and mourning with her right now,” Malfait said, adding that the two were in the same high school class. “They are such a kind, close-knit family, and we’re going to do whatever we can to help and maybe get some meals together for them in the next week or so.”

An online GoFundMe page created Sunday has already raised more than $20,000 to help the family pay for Lacy’s funeral and memorial expenses. Memories left on the page speak to Lacy’s passion for life, sports and the outdoors.

“As many people in the Merrimack Valley Community know Zach Lacy (tragically) lost his life yesterday,” the page reads. “He was a 15 year old boy with lots of life left to live.”

Lacy’s girlfriend, Meghan McGonagle, started a petition over the weekend, calling upon Gov. Chris Sununu and other lawmakers to close the river to swimmers and tubers between the Boscawen boat launch and the Hannah Duston Memorial. She said it is “one of the deadliest river bends on the Merrimack,” and should be closed to help ensure no other family has to endure the loss of a loved one.

Saturday’s drowning was the third major incident in the Merrimack River in recent months. In late May, a 27-year-old and a 21-year-old drowned in the water along Pebble Beach in Canterbury. Divers recovered the bodies of the two victims not far from the shore. The tragedy preceded a near-drowning on the Fourth of July in the exact spot in which a family passing along the river rescued a man and two children.

Unlike in the other incidents this summer, Lacy was familiar with New Hampshire’s waterways.

“He loved the water,” Malfait said. “If we had a lull in rentals, he would get out a paddleboard or kayak and hit the water. If there was work to do, he’d jump in and do that, too.”

The Contoocook River Canoe Company, located on the Contoocook River in Concord, rents out canoes, kayaks and paddleboards, and Lacy oversaw those efforts and helped get people onto the water, Malfait said.

“His energy was contagious. He would always be the first one to greet people as they came back and ask, ‘Did you have a good time?’ Because of that we received such positive feedback from our customers,” Malfait said. “We truly enjoyed having him as an employee. We’re all very sad at the business, and feel for the family. My heart goes out to them at this time.”


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