Ellicott City parish grieves after murder-suicide


By Erik Zygmont
ezygmont@CatholicReview.org
The aftermath of the Jan. 1 shooting in Ellicott City, in which 15-year-old Sean Crizer fatally shot 16-year-old Charlotte Zaremba before turning the gun on himself, has hit Our Lady of Perpetual Help Parish, also in Ellicott City, with a double impact.
Zaremba had friends and classmates there; Crizer had been an altar server for several years.
“We have teens that were close to Charlotte, and we have teens who knew Sean as well, as he was a member of the parish,” said Adam Smyth, a youth minister. “We’re just trying to be as present as we can to give them an outlet for everything they’re feeling.”
He said he began getting text messages and phone calls about the incident Jan. 1.
Multiple media have reported that early that morning, according to Howard County police, Zaremba’s mother, Suzanne Zaremba, awoke to sounds of a scuffle in her daughter’s bedroom, and found her struggling with a masked man, who shot both women before shooting himself in the head.
While Suzanne Zaremba was treated and released from the hospital, Charlotte Zaremba died of her wounds at Howard County General Hospital. Crizer died Jan. 3.
According to police, both teens were sophomores at Howard High School. The gun Crizer used had been stolen from a nearby home in a recent burglary. A motive has not been identified.
Our Lady of Perpetual Help organized an impromptu prayer service the evening of Jan. 3, inviting parish teens and their families. Several other parishioners and community members attended.
“We wanted to give them a chance to be together, to grieve as part of a community, but most of all to pray – for the souls of the departed, but also to invite the Lord to begin healing,” Smyth said.
Father Erik Arnold, the pastor, described Crizer as “a good altar server.”
“When he was on the schedule, he was there to serve, and he did it well,” Father Arnold said. “He was respectful and he took it seriously. … I can’t wrap my head around the tragedy.”
The priest said both himself and Smyth believed it was very important to pray for both Zaremba and Crizer.
“That can be hard for people close to Charlotte, to pray for the one who did it,” he acknowledged, “but everyone needs God’s mercy.”
Father Arnold told Crizer’s family that the church would be available for any arrangements they wanted to make, but he had not heard of any decisions, he said.
Zaremba’s funeral is Jan. 10 at Glen Mar United Methodist Church in Ellicott City.
Smyth said he was impressed by the support the grieving teens have received from their families. Only four or five who attended the prayer service were unaccompanied by supporters, he said.
“To have that support not only right now but in the days and weeks moving forward is awesome,” he said.
Father Arnold noted that tragedies such as this one can cause people to wonder “where God was.”
“Although it feels like he is nowhere near this, it’s in these darkest of tragedies that he is most with us,” he said, adding that Jesus’ own suffering and death on the cross embodies the seeming paradox.

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