Carroll town is stunned by arrest

Residents know little about teacher, 24, charged in sex abuse

May 21, 2001|By Childs Walker | Childs Walker,SUN STAFF

From breakfast conversation at the community center to afternoon chatter on the stoop in front of a 7-Eleven, one story galvanized residents of tiny Union Bridge in Carroll County yesterday. They were aghast over the arrest Saturday of a Francis Scott Key High School substitute teacher on charges of inappropriate sexual contact with eight male students, ages 15 to 17.

Few, however, knew anything about Kimberly L. Merson, 24, who, according to Key students, coached the school's cheerleading squad and taught a variety of subjects. Only the students could describe her.

"She was kind of snotty," said Katie Sutherland, 15, a Key freshman who was bagging groceries at Myers Market on the edge of town yesterday afternoon. "She always acted like she was one of the students."

Sutherland said she tried out for Merson's cheerleading squad but didn't make it.

Other students, who requested anonymity because they feared punishment, described Merson as attractive and popular. One said he had known about the alleged sexual misconduct for months but added that most students hadn't heard the news until Saturday.

Neighbors in the town of about 1,000 said they didn't know the couple well. They said they sometimes saw Kimberly Merson's husband, Christopher Merson - who moved to the house in the 100 block of N. Main St. in November 1999 - but rarely saw Kimberly. The Mersons' home sits on a quiet block of modest two-story homes, many with hand-painted welcome signs hanging by the door and shiny American flags flying overhead.

"Nobody knew them, and everybody knows everybody around here," said neighbor Chris Warner, who was mowing his lawn yesterday morning.

"It certainly came as a shock to everyone," said lifelong resident Arlene Hoy, sitting in Union Bridge's community center after a town fund-raising breakfast. "You can imagine how a story like this hits in a small community. We've had a couple of kids from the high school come through and say how they can't believe what they've been hearing."

Merson's colleagues at Key couldn't be reached or declined to comment yesterday. Charles I. Ecker, Carroll's interim superintendent of schools, said he wouldn't comment until a news conference this morning.

Merson was a long-term substitute, the type of teacher a school hires when a permanent teacher is on maternity leave or other extended leave. Students, teachers and administrators said Saturday and yesterday that they were not sure how long Merson had taught at the school.

Christopher Merson teaches special education at Key, near Union Bridge at Uniontown and Bark Hill roads. Students and neighbors said the Mersons had been married about a year. Calls to the couple's home went unanswered yesterday. Knocks to the door brought no response.

Merson spent Saturday night in the Carroll County Detention Center but was released yesterday afternoon on $250,000 bond. A woman who answered the phone at Merson's parents' home in Sykesville yesterday declined to comment. Merson was arrested at a relative's home in Catonsville about 2 a.m. Saturday.

Police said she told them she had provided alcohol to the students, invited them to her home, stripped and danced for them, fondled them, had sexual intercourse with them and performed oral sex on them. Police said the incidents occurred last winter at Merson's home, two of the students' homes, in Merson's car and in one student's car.

Merson is charged with 15 counts of child sexual abuse, five counts of contributing to the delinquency of a minor, and one count each of third-degree sexual offense, perverted practice and distribution of obscene material.

Police learned of the alleged incidents Friday afternoon, when one of the students spoke with a school administrator.

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