UPDATED: Resident of Laconia home for mentally ill charged in murder
LACONIA — A 19-year-old resident of an apartment building for the mentally ill has been charged with the strangulation death of a fellow resident.
Authorities said police discovered the body of Zachary March, 27, when they responded to an emergency call early Monday morning at 24 McGrath St. They also encountered Kasey Riley, 19, and later charged him with second-degree murder, according to a statement issued by the New Hampshire Attorney General's Office.
Both are residents of the building, homicide prosecutor Geoffrey Ward said.
Debra Riley, Riley's sister, sent her sincere condolences to the March family. “I can only imagine the loss and grief you are feeling right now and my thoughts and prayers are with you,” she said in the statement sent through the National Alliance on Mental Illness NH.
She said her brother has been in and out of hospitals his entire life because of mental illness. Last Tuesday, she said, he sought help at Lakes Region General Hospital because there were no beds available at New Hampshire State Hospital in Concord. He waited in the hospital for two days until he was transported finally to Concord Hospital on Thursday.
The hospital, however, released him the next day.
“I do not know the circumstances for why he was released. I spoke with him several times over the weekend, he did not appear to be agitated or upset. There was no indication that he was dangerous or was going to hurt anyone. I spoke to him at 9 p.m. Sunday evening and he told me he had a good day at the beach and was headed home. I love my brother very much. No matter what he has done, that will never change,” she said in the prepared statement.
Riley also pleaded with the state of New Hampshire to increase funding and staff for mental health
”I pray for every family who is affected by mental illness that they are blessed with strength and patience to love and nurture their family members who suffer,” she wrote.
She said neither she nor her family have any further comments to make.
The 2-1/2-story structure where the murder happened is located on a middle-class, residential street within walking distance of downtown. Neighbors said its residents suffer from mental or emotional challenges; the home is operated by Genesis Behavioral Health.
Genesis is one of 10 community mental health agencies located across the state.
Genesis spokesman Kristen Welch stressed that 24 McGrath St. is not a group home. It is termed supportive, permanent housing. Eight residents rent apartments from Genesis, which provides support and services to the residents, but not an on-site manager.
"It's kind of shocking," said a resident who lives two doors down from the building and did not want his name used. He said the structure housed the mentally ill for the 17 years that he has owned his house.
He said there are occasional issues at the building — such as when a resident uses foul language — but neighbors call Genesis and it gets addressed. He said police are called to the building on occasion, but typically spend only a few minutes there.
Welch said tenants at the structure have rules to follow, and Genesis will review the service provided there. But she doubts Genesis will need to make wholesale changes.
"An individual act," he said, "isn't necessarily attributable to a failure of the system."
Police said March was pronounced dead at the scene. An autopsy is scheduled for this morning at the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner. Riley is expected to be arraigned in Laconia District Court at 10 a.m. today.
For most of the day Monday, the front portion of the structure was wrapped in yellow crime scene tape. The New Hampshire State Police Major Crime Unit van was parked in the driveway, and a police officer prevented people from stepping onto the property from the sidewalk. One of two front doors was open, showing a banister and hallway. A red Frisbee was on the front step.
One resident left with Genesis staff in a car, returning shortly afterward with a bag from a pharmacy. Another resident went to the front of the building to pick up the mail.
Neither would speak to a reporter.
"Our concerns right now are for the family and friends of the deceased, for the other residents of our building and the staff," Welch said.
She would not describe the residents, other than to say they would otherwise be homeless.
She said the investigation and crime scene technicians displaced some of the residents, and Genesis was working to make sure they had a place to stay overnight Monday.
Nothing like this has ever happened at Genesis facilities, which provide mental health services in Belknap and southern Grafton counties, Welch said.
Last week, Gov. Maggie Hassan visited the Genesis administrative offices in Laconia to discuss the need for the expansion of Medicaid in New Hampshire.