Family mourns 15-year-old brother, varsity athlete and friend of many

  • A family photo of Zach Lacy shows him with the Merrimack River in the backround. Zach always loved the water and spent lots of time exploring area waterways. Courtesy

  • Zoe Lacy, Zach’s twin sister, pets his dog Mya as the family reflects on their brother at Merrimack Valley High School on Wednesday, August 5, 2020. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

  • Zach Lacy’s family at Merrimack Valley High School on Wednesday, August 5, 2020: from left, Alex Lacy, Zoe Lacy, Andrew Jones and Max Lacy. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

  • Alex Lacy holds Zach’s dog Mya as the family reflects on their brother at Merrimack Valley High School on Wednesday, August 5, 2020. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

  • Zach Lacy’s siblings talk about their brother at Merrimack Valley High School on Wednesday. From left, Alex Lacy, Zoe Lacy, Andrew Jones and Max Lacy. With them is Zach’s puppy, Mya. Services will be held at the school on Friday. GEOFF FORESTER / Monitor staff

  • Alex Lacy holds Zach’s dog Mya as the family reflects on their brother at Merrimack Valley High School on Wednesday, August 5, 2020. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

  • Zach Lacy’s family at Merrimack Valley High School on Wednesday, August 5, 2020: from left, Alex Lacy, Zoe Lacy, Andrew Jones and Max Lacy. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

  • Alex Lacy holds Zach’s dog Mya as the family reflects on their brother at Merrimack Valley High School on Wednesday, August 5, 2020. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

  • Zach Lacy with girlfriend, Meghan McGonagle. McGonagle has started a petition to help raise awareness about the dangers of the Merrimack River. Courtesy

  • Zach Lacy (center) is with his father, Hank Lacy, brother Max Lacy, mother, Lisa Jones, his girlfriend, Meghan McGonagle, and a friend on a family trip. Courtesy

  • The Lacy family ​​​​​​COURTESY—

Monitor staff
Published: 8/6/2020 5:03:56 PM

Zach Lacy had a remarkable knack for making people laugh even at his own expense. He greeted friends and strangers alike with a wide smile, and sometimes a joke.

“I don’t think any of them were original, but the delivery was good every time,” his brother Alex Lacy said with a grin.

The goofy and good-natured 15-year-old told “terrible joke after terrible joke” until someone cracked a smile or had a good chuckle, siblings said. That infectious personality is what drew others to Zach, and what his loved ones now recall so vividly as they grieve his unexpected death Saturday in the waters of the Merrimack River, where the current is often unpredictable.

“I think he just hit a nasty undertow and couldn’t handle it,” Alex said in an interview Wednesday outside Merrimack Valley High School. “I don’t think it was anything besides just an absolute accident and being in the wrong place at the wrong time.”

On the athletic field and in the water were the two places where Zach felt most at home. He was like a fish in the water, and he explored the woods for local inlets and waterways at every opportunity. To learn that their little brother died while doing something he loved was gut-wrenching for his three surviving brothers and twin sister, Zoe, especially because Zach had so much life still left to live.

Zach, a Salisbury resident, would have started his junior year at the Penacook high school this fall. Instead, his family members will take to Merrimack Valley’s football field this Friday evening for calling hours, during which members of the community may offer their condolences and say their final goodbyes to Zach.

Authorities investigating the drowning said Zach was swimming Saturday with friends when he began to struggle and went under the water before anyone could safely render aid. He did not resurface and was later recovered by a Concord firefighter who dove off a rescue boat and into the water near Oxbow Pond Road in Canterbury, which is just north of the Hannah Duston Memorial.

Attempts to save Zach’s life were unsuccessful. He was ultimately pronounced dead at Concord Hospital, where family members and friends gathered in the parking lot late Saturday to support one another as they awaited word from doctors. Due to COVID-19 guidelines, admittance into the hospital remains restricted.

Zach’s death was the third major incident on the Merrimack River since late May, and his friends and family members say they are committed to making sure positive change comes from this latest tragedy. They’re calling for more public education about the dangers of the water, strict enforcement of life vests and routine patrols by state authorities of the popular beaches along the river.

“I’d much rather be helping my brother pay a $500 fine for not wearing a life vest than be raising money to pay for his funeral,” Alex said. “Something has to change.”

An athlete at heart

Zach was born in Concord on Aug. 26, 2004, to Lisa Jones and Hank Lacy and spent his childhood in Salisbury. Following in the footsteps of his older brothers, he played many youth sports, including football and lacrosse. As he got older, he also picked up snowboarding and water sports.

“We were talking last night about his time playing football as a kid,” Andrew Jones, who is the eldest of the siblings, said outside Merrimack Valley on Wednesday. “There was this one cold game; it was raining and like 32 degrees out. Zach decided to just quit playing so he could go sit in the car.”

Andrew laughed and added, “He was in second grade playing on a third- and fourth-grade football team. But that was him – always playing with kids older than him.”

Even at a young age, Zach made people laugh without even realizing it. But he was also a tough kid; growing up as the youngest of four boys, he didn’t have much of a choice, his siblings said.

“I coached him in football when he was young,” Andrew said. “He was fearless for sure. I had him on the defensive line and would get him to dive through the center’s legs. You wouldn’t think it was him when you heard the hit.”

At age 8, Zach also picked up lacrosse. His brothers Alex and Max played, and so he picked up a stick and gave it a shot, too.

“He was kind of dragged into it,” Alex said. “If he had played baseball, we would have never stopped making fun of him.”

Lacrosse quickly became Zach’s favorite sport, and he excelled at it. At Merrimack Valley, he had lettered in both lacrosse and football as a member of the varsity teams. If Zach had decided to enroll in college, his choice would have been based on the institution’s interest in him as a lacrosse player, Andrew said.

Outside of varsity sports, Zach enjoyed pickup hockey games with friends, kayaking, paddle boarding, playing Xbox with his brothers, exploring the woods behind his home and watching the sunsets. He was happiest outdoors surrounded by people, and that is why his job at Contoocook River Canoe Company in Concord was a perfect fit. When he wasn’t helping customers at the waterfront, he was out on the Contoocook for a leisurely paddle.

Girlfriend Meghan McGonagle said Zach made friends easily and hung out with freshmen and seniors alike. Meghan, a resident of Penacook, said she met Zach in middle school, and they instantly clicked.

“He always wanted to hang out with people. He never wanted to be by himself,” she said. “If someone asked him to hang out, he was always down to do it.”

In early March, Zach welcomed a new puppy into the family’s home and named her Mya. The Lacys had four other dogs at the time, but Mya belonged to Zach, and he was in charge of her care. He considered her his best friend.

“Our mom said that she helped with his anxiety,” Andrew said. “Taking care of her every day taught him a sense of responsibility, too.”

Alex said Zach’s friends have offered to help take care of Mya in recent days. For a 5-month-old puppy, he said, she is well behaved.

“Zach trained her well; she sits, lies down and shakes,” Alex said, while holding Mya on Wednesday outside Merrimack Valley. “I can tell she’s getting a little anxious, though, because she hasn’t seen him in a few days. She’s wondering where he is.”

Tragedy strikes

The last time Alex spoke with Zach was by phone. Zach called his brother on Friday, July 31, and said he was probably going to float down the Merrimack River that Saturday with friends.

“I said, ‘That river is dirty and you probably shouldn’t.’ But also, I’ve done it a million times myself so I couldn’t really tell him not to,” Alex said. “It is a pretty dangerous body of water.”

The tubing trip was planned in celebration of a friend’s birthday, Zoe said. The group planned to enter the river from Jamie Welch Memorial Park in Boscawen.

Having just returned home to Penacook from a family vacation, Meghan said she spoke to Zach on Saturday morning, and he caught her up on his plans for that day. She agreed to pick him up at the Boscawen park-and-ride lot that afternoon once he finished his float. But he never showed up.

“It wasn’t like him to just not show up,” she said. “He wasn’t on his phone much that day, and no one else was responding.”

Ultimately, she received a call from Hank Lacy who said his son was missing. Everything after that is a blur, Meghan said.

Both Zoe and Max were in the area and met family members and friends at the hospital. But their siblings were out of town; Andrew was at a lacrosse tournament for his daughter in Connecticut and Alex on his way back from Hampton Beach when they received the news.

In the days since, the Lacy house has been busy with friends and neighbors stopping by to check in, drop off food and offer their support.

“There have been a lot of kids at the house all week,” Andrew said. “At times they’re crying and at times they’re laughing as they tell stories about Zach. It’s comforting to know that Zoe and Max have had people around them.”

Alex said Mya has kept him busy and distracted. But falling asleep at night is often difficult, he added.

Calls for change

With help from close friends, the family has focused much time and energy this week on planning calling hours for Zach at Merrimack Valley. The Lacys knew early on they would need a big space to welcome everyone who wished to pay their respects, especially during a public health crisis.

“We knew pretty immediately a large number of people would come, so we started having conversations with the funeral home about where to do it because we knew we couldn’t have it there,” Andrew said. “The school and the funeral home were really helpful in working with us and getting us access to the football field.”

Poster boards displaying hundreds of pictures of Zach with family members and friends will greet community members, beginning at 4 p.m. Zach’s football and lacrosse jerseys will also hang in his honor. Six-foot social distancing and face masks will be required by everyone in attendance.

A GoFundMe page created by Meghan’s mother, Michelle McGonagle, has raised more than $32,000 for the family since Sunday. The donations will help the family pay for Zach’s funeral expenses and the remainder will be deposited into a newly created scholarship fund in Zach’s name at Merrimack Valley. Each year, the school will select candidates from the graduating class, and the family will ultimately choose one graduate to receive a scholarship.

In the weeks ahead, Zach’s siblings said, they are eager to work with Meghan on her efforts to bring new safety measures and enforcement to areas along the Merrimack River, which has been the site of so many recent tragedies. In her Change.org petition, Meghan calls upon Gov. Chris Sununu and other lawmakers to close the section of the river to swimmers and tubers between the Boscawen boat launch and the Hannah Duston Memorial.

Alex said it’s unlikely lawmakers will actually shut down a section of the river, but he said there are very reasonable steps the state can take, such as enforcing life vests, requiring law enforcement patrols and installing buoys to rope off problem areas.

Like Meghan, the Lacys agree that something has to be done before another life is lost.

“There is nothing we can do now that is going to bring Zach back, but my hope is that this petition will prevent some other parent from losing their child. We can’t allow this to happen to someone else,” Meghan said. “Zach didn’t die for no reason; he is going to be the reason why other lives are saved.”


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