Zachary Merdy, just 7 years old had an insatiable determination to play the best soccer he could.
“He was a very excited young man, and thrilled with everything that was going on with the program, and being a part of football,” the little boy’s coach Allen McFarland tells Digital.
McFarland is one of many in the Brooklyn neighborhood of Coney Island who were stunned to learn Zachary and his 4-year-old sister Liliana Merdy and 3-month-old brother Oliver Bondarev had died after being drowned in the waters of the Brooklyn beach Monday. Those feelings of shock and despair only intensified when word spread of who was suspected of committing the unimaginable crime: the children’s mother.
Police said that Erin Merdy (30), of Brooklyn was charged Wednesday with murder with intent and depraved negligence in the deaths of her three young children. Her arrest came a day after the New York City chief medical examiner’s office ruled the children had been intentionally drowned. She had initially been hospitalized Monday for a psychiatric evaluation after being questioned at the 60th Precinct stationhouse, officials said.
Merdy’s sister called 911 to report that Merdy was threatening to harm the children. Police responded around 1:40 AM. They discovered Merdy barefoot and soaking wet on the boardwalk in Brighton Beach about 90 minutes later, Kenneth Corey, the chief of the department, told reporters at a press conference that day.
Merdy was not with her children.
Officers said they found the boy, girl and infant about two miles away, along the shoreline in the vicinity of West 35 Street and the Boardwalk, unconscious and unresponsive. Police stated that the ambulance service responded and rushed the three children to Coney Island Hospital.
Police sources say that video footage captured Merdy and her children walking calmly to the ocean at night shows Merdy.Submitted to WABC-TV.
“Every time I think about it, it just, wow,” McFarland tells Digital. McFarland, founder of the Coney Island Silverbacks youth football team for which Zachary played, said a fellow coach told him Zachary had been killed.
“I was shocked and in disbelief at the very beginning,”He says. “It just felt like everything just went quiet. When everything just went quiet, it’s like a real airy feeling, and I’m like, ‘wow.'”
Like many others in Brooklym, McFarland and his fellow coaches have been especially struck by the killings, one of the most heinous crimes against children in New York City’s recent history.
“Just to me, the situation is very just, it’s very difficult and very tough,” McFarland tells IED. “As a child, you think that the safest place and the safest person that you can possibly be with at a time would be your mom. At the same time that can be your last walk. The 7-year old or 4-year-old [may have been thinking], ‘We’re going to the beach.’ At any time you hear, ‘We’re going to the beach’ as a child,”McFarland excitedly exclaims: “[But] in those moments, [instead] feeling hopeless, scared and confused, [thinking] ‘what the hell is going on?’”
Zachary found football a safe place, and he relied on his coaches to pick Zachary up so that he could go to practice.
“He was a nice, good young man. Very quiet, but also very expressive and lovable,”McFarland speaks out about the young athlete. “Always laughing, smiling, excited. The word I would use for him would be excited. Excited.”
Zachary played receiver, linebacker and lineman for the team, helping the Coney Island Silverbacks go on to win a championship last year. According to his coach, he has a bright future in the sport.
“Definitely, definitely high school,”McFarland reveals IED. “Definitely high school. The purpose of us is pushing these young men to go to high school … to play football, you have to do good in school.”
It was difficult to talk to Zachary’s team about the loss of their friend. McFarland believed it was important to continue practice on Monday, as they would normally.
“As we came together, and as the kids started trickling to the park and stuff like that, we gathered them up and we broke the news to the kids,”He says. “They took it very, very hard, especially the ones that understood life and death … It was a very sad moment. We got them all together, we did a group hug, and we said a nice prayer before the start of practice.”
Zachary’s teammates held a tribute that same day for him, releasing balloons and shouting his number 15 on the top. “Zachary, we love you,” the New York Post reported.
Though McFarland knew he must put on a brave face for the children, he is struggling with making sense of the senseless.
“It’s devastating. It’s difficult. It’s difficult. Because children have questions.” he tells IED.
Erin Merdy, the children’s mother, appeared to be “It’s a lot of fun to juggle.” McFarland says.
The city’s Administration for Children’s Services (ACS) found evidence to support a claim of neglect or abuse against Merdy in 2020, a law enforcement official who spoke on condition of anonymity told The New York Times. The agency told the Times it could not discuss Merdy pending the outcome of its investigation into the deaths of the children.
Derrick Merdy, Zachary’s father and Merdy’s ex-husband, told the Times he fought for years to get custody of his son. He said he called authorities about concerns over Zachary’s welfare. An ACS employee who spoke to the Times on condition of anonymity said it had not filed a petition in family court against Merdy, which is required to seek court-ordered supervision of the family or removal of children from her custody.
Merdy’s alleged actions appear to have been premeditated and not the result of a spur of the moment decision, police told WABC-TV. Investigators are examining if postpartum depression that led to postpartum psychosis could have played a role in the killings, WABC-TV reported. Merdy’s relatives have told authorities she had been taking anti-depressants, but was off her medication. She will not speak to police, but her family said she told them she drowned her children, officials told WABC-TV.
Merdy has prior incidents of alleged harassment and aggravated harassment that did not result in charges, but had never before been arrested or any documented history of being emotionally disturbed, police told the news station.
Investigators are interviewing neighbors and relatives to learn more about Merdy’s past. Officials also told ABC-TV that Merdy had been served with an eviction notice for allegedly not paying her rent since sometime last year.
When asked if Zachary appeared to be lacking any sort of care, McFarland said, “This is a difficult one for me too. While being a young parent doesn’t necessarily mean she wasn’t attentive, she could have… Sometimes, it felt like things were a bit rushed.”
The children’s loved ones are planning to hold a funeral for them this week.
“McFarland: “I send my condolences to the family and I hope they find peace and understanding during this difficult period.”