Earlier that day, the Vermont Department of Justice issued a press release announcing that Merrill “was arrested today after having been indicted by a federal grand jury for charges related to the production and possession of child sexual abuse material, also known as child pornography.”
The DOJ release went on to detail that in the week prior, Chester Police Officers seized numerous electronic devices, including “pinhole cameras” and a “spy camera” from Merrill’s home.
“The Vermont State Police conducted a preliminary examination of a memory card seized from the residence which revealed numerous voyeuristic videos taken in bathrooms. Some of these videos were taken in a bathroom of defendant Merrill’s residence and were determined to depict nude minor female children. The memory card also contained image files that appear to be screen-captures created from these videos of nude minors.”
The GMUSD board meeting began at 6 p.m. just as news of the arrest began to surface. Speaking during the GMUSD meeting, Fierman said that there was a limited amount that she would be able to publicly discuss since they are restricted from discussing personnel matters or ongoing police investigations. She confirmed that a complete and thorough search by police at the high school had taken place prior and that no cameras or recording equipment were found. She also reminded community members that, in the justice system, someone is innocent until proven guilty. Merrill has since pled not guilty to the charges but is being held in custody.
Chester Police Chief Rick Cloud who was in attendance said that the investigation was ongoing and would likely take a long time. Cloud said that videos that were seized by the Vermont State Police were being reviewed by Homeland Security, and that he did not have access to them.
When asked by several board members, Fierman said that she may call in additional resources for students and staff once she had spoken to the crisis team and come up with a plan, which included talking to mental health experts for their recommendation.
GMUHS Principal Keith Hill said the arrest was going to present a very serious challenge for the community but his priority would be to help students and staff. “Our priority must be maintaining an educational environment for students that is conducive to their learning and supporting them in every way that we possibly can. Our community is going to need our support and I ask you all to stand up with us and to be supportive,” he said.
Later that evening, following the GMUSD meeting, Fierman and Hill issued a joint email to GMUHS parents about the arrest of Merrill with a link to the Department of Justice Press Release and pledged support for students, staff and families, with counselors available to “help students and staff process this information.”
In other meeting news, the board unanimously approved the Battelle for Kids program called “Portrait of a Graduate” that will be a district wide program involving community members, administration, teachers, and students, to help establish goals and a strategic plan. The $35,000 price tag will come out of ESSER (Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief) Funding.
The board agreed to transfer registration and title of the school buses from TRSU to GMUSD (who actually owns the buses) and to change the name on the side of any new buses to GMUSD, but not spend money to change the current ones identified as Two Rivers Supervisory Union.
The board approved funding the full cost of paving the GMUHS driveway, allocating $55,600 from contingency fund to cover entire cost.
Several summer programs are being planned for students, including “Summer Sage” and “Go Wild” at the elementary, middle, and high school levels. Details are available through the schools.
Chester Andover Elementary School Principal Katherine Fogg announced her retirement, which will take place at the end of next year.
The next regular GMUSD meeting is scheduled for Thursday, June 16 at 6 p.m. at the GMUHS library and via Zoom.