A murder-suicide apparently perpetrated by an eight-year-old involving his four-year-old sister.
A purported case of elementary school bullying so egregious it led to this unthinkable act.
A missing family dog.
A grieving mother left behind.
All of these elements would add up to an unbearably tragic case under any circumstances, but when the truth was unraveled, it proved to be much more sinister than that. At best, this case is a trainwreck; at worst, it will be a clusterfuck for the history books.
Here goes nothing, guys. There aren’t enough trigger warnings in the world to prepare you for this.
At about 4:30 PM on September 23, 2019, 36-year-old Lisa Rachelle Snyder called 911 to report a situation beyond any mother’s worst nightmare: she had discovered her children, eight-year-old Conner and four-year-old Brinley, unresponsive and hanging by their necks in the basement of the family’s home at 2442 Route 143 in Albany Township, Pennsylvania.
Recordings of communications between a 911 dispatcher and emergency responders detail information Lisa provided during her 911 call. Categorizing the call as a pediatric cardiac arrest with two patients, the dispatcher told responders the children were both found hanging in the basement of the Snyder home.
En route to the scene, a fire captain asked the 911 dispatcher, “Any indication from the caller if the scene is safe or how these children ended up there?”
“She mentioned that the eight-year-old has been bullied and has made threats of doing this, but didn’t want to go alone,” replied the dispatcher. “At this time, it should just be the mother and the two children on scene.”
When EMTs arrived at about 4:41 PM, they found that, according to an affidavit filed in the case, “the victims were observed hanging approximately three feet apart from a single wired cable dog lead with vinyl coating and ends containing swivel eye snap hooks. The wire was wrapped around the main support beam of the basement and each end of the wire wrapped around the victims’ necks. In the area of the victims were two wooden bar height dining room chairs knocked over on their sides.”
I’m trying my very hardest not to imagine it, because if I allow the horrific vision into my head, I might never stop crying.
The children were immediately airlifted to Lehigh Valley Hospital in Cedar Crest; they were in full cardiac arrest, but during transport, both Conner and Brinley were revived. However, after three days in the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit, both children were removed from life support. According to the coroner’s statement, on Thursday, September 26, 2019, four-year-old Brinley Louise Snyder was pronounced dead at 4:26 PM; her older brother, eight-year-old Conner Seth Snyder, died at 4:40 PM.
Both children’s organs, tissues, and corneas were donated, which is one small comfort amidst the horror.
Conner, who loved playing video games and building forts, was a third grader at Greenwich-Lenhartsville Elementary School in Krumsville, and according to Superintendent Christian Temchatin in a statement to the Morning Call, the little boy was loved by many. “The Kutztown Area School District community mourns the sudden death of Conner Snyder. Conner was a beloved member of the Greenwich Elementary School family who enjoyed his peers and teachers. He is dearly missed and is fondly remembered for the smile he brought to all who knew him.”
At the time of her death, Brinley was attending her second year of pre-kindergarten at Kutztown’s Early Learning Community. According to her obituary, Brinley loved playing dress-up and the movie Frozen.
Autopsies on the children were conducted by Dr. Michael Johnson on September 30. For both Conner and Brinley, the cause of death was determined to be the result of hanging. Neither child had drugs in their system. The Lehigh County Coroner’s Office determined the manner of death for both children was homicide.
Wednesday, October 12, 2019 would have been Conner’s ninth birthday, which about 60 family members and friends honored by gathering at the Kempton Community Center for a balloon launch. “Catch them, Conner,” they called out as the balloons floated away.
(Side note: while a balloon launch is always intended as a lovely memorial gesture, I wish more people were aware of what a danger balloons pose to wildlife and the environment. According to nonprofit organization Balloons Blow, balloons are the number one marine debris risk of mortality for seabirds. “Debris from balloons represents a danger, because animals may become entangled in ribbons preventing normal foraging activity. Animals also mistake balloon debris for food and ingest the material, which may block the stomach or intestines and lead to starvation.” On top of this, helium is a finite resource that is essential in many areas of science and technology, including cryogenics, MRI scanners, rockets, arc welding, ventilators, lasers, solar telescopes, deep sea exploration, gas chromatography, and many others. Production of helium, which is obtained during the process of extracting natural gas from the earth, is much slower than our current rate of consumption, and I don’t know about you guys, but I tend to think allowing sick people to breathe, diagnosing illness, and the dozens of other practical applications of helium should outweigh filling some single-use balloons and releasing them into the atmosphere. A much more sustainable alternative would be planting a tree, flower garden, or butterfly garden in remembrance. Thank you for coming to my TED talk. /rant)
Lisa told police during the course of two interviews that Conner had been bullied in school and had told her multiple times that he wanted to die. “He is overweight, has a speech delay, he needs the extra help, a little slower to grasp things, kids make fun of him because he is fat,” she told police. (Nice way to put that, Mom.) She also told them he had lost 25 pounds since school started in September as a result of starving himself.
“He tells me he hates school. Every day he tells me he doesn’t want to talk about school,” Lisa told investigators. “He just comes home and he is just angry.”
According to court documents, Lisa told investigators that Conner told her he hated school and didn’t want to discuss it. “We had a little sit-down last week. And I told him, honey if you ever feel like hurting yourself please come to me. He did say to me when we were talking, I woulda killed myself already but I am scared to go by myself.”
Lisa suggested to police that this was the reason Conner chose his younger sister to die with him: so he didn’t have to go alone.
According to Lisa, when Conner came home from school on September 23, he asked Brinley to go downstairs to build a fort with him. Lisa said Conner loved building forts; she told police, “That’s his thing.” She also told police about the children, “They play downstairs in the basement all the time.”
However, Lisa’s 17-year-old son Owen, who also lives in the home but was at work at the time of the incident, later told investigators it was not normal for his younger siblings to play in the basement; he said Conner and Brinley usually built forts in the living room.
Lisa told police that Conner took the two dining room chairs downstairs with him as fort-building supplies, describing hearing him carry each chair down the stairs separately and saying it was a “slow go” because the chairs were heavy. “It took him a while, but he got them down there,” she told them. Lisa said she had ordered the wire dog lead cable the day before from Walmart’s website and had picked it up from the Hamburg store location the morning of the incident, and, according to her, Conner noticed the tie-out on the table and asked if he could use it to build the fort. Allowing this, Lisa said she stepped outside to walk Boomer, a five-month-old, 50-pound black husky/pit bull mix, and to smoke a cigarette, which she said normally took her three to four minutes, but because she was throwing Boomer’s toy with him, she was outside for about ten minutes. When she returned to the house and went downstairs to ask the kids if they wanted frozen pizza or Chef Boyardee for dinner, she said, she found them hanging and unresponsive.
According to Lisa’s police interviews, she said she tried to lift 40-pound Brinley, but said when her “anxiety spikes,” she tended to sweat profusely, so she was unable to get the latch to the dog lead undone. She then tried to lift Conner, who weighed about 150 pounds, but she was unable to, so she went upstairs, called 911, and, according to court documents, never returned to the basement.
Excuse me? What mother, finding her kids in such a state, even if she was slipperier than a greased pig, would just give up on getting them down? And why on earth would she leave their side for even a nanosecond longer than it took to retrieve the phone?
According to EMTs at the scene, when they arrived, Lisa was outside the house, smoking a cigarette. WHAT. THE. FUCK.
During the investigation, police served several search warrants in the case, seizing various items from the home, including a UMX cell phone, the vinyl-coated wire dog tie-out used to hang the children, the two wooden dining chairs tipped over near the scene, two iPads, a laptop computer, and an Xbox.
After the initial searches, police were surprised to learn from Owen that his mother had more than one cell phone; as a result, investigators ultimately seized five cellular devices, although a Samsung Galaxy Note 9 that Lisa claimed she lost on September 23 was never found.
“The eight-year-old victim is known to play video games and view various internet websites utilizing the Xbox gaming console,” according to one of the search warrants.
Although the investigations seemed to stall for a couple of months after Conner and Brinley died, police were working diligently to get to the bottom of the incident. They unearthed exactly zero evidence that Conner was bullied at school; by all accounts, he was not bullied and had never expressed thoughts of suicide.
Older brother Owen told police that when Lisa mentioned Conner was picked on at school, he asked the boy about it, but Conner denied being bullied.
In footage from Conner’s school bus on the afternoon of September 23, the boy is visible getting off the bus and running up to the house, showing no signs of distress or any demeanor other than that of a happy, normal child.
A friend of Lisa’s told Pennsylvania State Trooper Jared Clugston that she had received a text message from Lisa on September 16 stating that Conner was suicidal over being bullied by other kids. The friend told the trooper, however, that she picked Conner up from school the same day and thought he seemed totally fine; she saw him sitting with his friends, laughing, when she pulled up to the school, and he never said a word to her about being bullied or wanting to hurt himself. She told Trooper Clugston that three weeks prior, Lisa came over and told the friend and her mother about being depressed and unable to get out of bed; she also told the two women that “she does not care anymore about her kids.”
During interviews on September 27 and November 7, Corporal Johnny Sleboda of the Pennsylvania State Police interviewed a certified occupational therapist assistant who worked with Conner during his second and third grade school years. The therapist told Cpl. Sleboda that Conner, who had low hand to eye coordination and difficulty using his index finger and thumb pinched together, would have had difficulty operating the clasp on the wire dog lead due to his poor dexterity. When she was shown a crime scene photograph of the dog lead wrapped around the beam in the basement and told perpetrating the act would have required Conner to stand on a chair, the therapist said it would have been extremely difficult for him to complete these tasks; it took Conner twice as long to do things compared to other children his age due to his difficulty with motor planning skills and poor balance. She also told police that Conner had difficulty tying a string and that, when given this task, one end would always be substantially longer because he had difficulty finding the center of the string. In the therapist’s opinion, the dog lead tied around the support beam was too equal in length on both sides for Conner to have set it up the way it was.
On November 4, the police received Google records of search history performed using Lisa’s email address. These searches included the following:
- “carbon monoxide in a car how long to die”
- “I almost got away with it best episodes”
- “hanging yourself”
- “does a hybrid car produce carbon monoxide while idling”
The records also showed the user visited a website that detailed an effective way of hanging a person using a short drop and simple suspension.
Two months after the children’s deaths, due to the evidence stacked against her, Lisa Snyder was arrested at her home on Monday, December 2, 2019; reportedly, she showed little emotion while being taken into custody. She is currently being held without bail at Berks County Prison, and her charges include two counts each of first-degree and third-degree murder, endangering the welfare of children, tampering with evidence, and one count each of cruelty to animals and sexual intercourse with an animal.
<record scratch> Wait, WHAT?
Yes, you read that correctly; electronic evidence, including photographs and Facebook messages, were uncovered that proved Lisa had engaged in sexual activity with Boomer, the family dog. I don’t want to get into details; the arrest affidavit did that a little too well as it was. Suffice it to say that throughout September, Lisa exchanged explicit messages and pictures on Facebook with an unnamed gentleman who she called “daddy” throughout the exchange (ugh), detailing the sexual acts she and the dog performed on each other.
While describing the perversions to her Facebook paramour, Lisa mentioned she hoped he would be able to see her in some woman-on-dog action in person on Sunday, although she also lamented her difficulties in finding a babysitter to allow this planned date from hell to occur.
Also within her messages to this “daddy” character were more references to Conner being bullied and suicidal, just casually peppered in amongst the descriptions and photos of the dog being sexually abused. This woman is (“allegedly”) a freaking monster.
Boomer, the dog, was mysteriously missing when police attempted to locate him. It turned out that Lisa had given him away to a woman in West Virginia named Suzanne Meyer Zeek, who described herself, according to Crime Chicken Fried, as a “friend of a friend.” In her post on Crime Report’s Facebook page, Suzanne said, “I have the dog and I wish people would leave him out of it! He is safe and sound here with me in WV.” She also told them, “I’m glad I rescued him cause he is the sweetest dog ever!”
As an aside, let me remind you that Boomer weighed around 50 pounds, but the dog lead Lisa purchased the day before she allegedly hung her children was rated for up to 250 pounds. Now why would she need such a heavy-duty dog lead for a dog that size? As for why Boomer went missing right after the children died, Lisa claimed she gave the dog away in tribute to the kids. Uh-huh. Sure you did.
“It would be safe to say that we immediately had questions,” Berks County District Attorney John Adams said in a press conference given after Lisa’s arrest. “Eight-year-olds, generally, that I am aware of, do not commit suicide, so of course we had questions.”
Regarding the fact that Lisa did not return to the basement after calling 911, Adams said, “We all may think that a mother whose children are found hanging would make every effort possible to save them. That was not done in this situation.”
Adams also mentioned that Berks County Children and Youth Services had taken Conner and Owen away from Lisa in 2014, although he did not provide further details about the situation. The children were returned to their mother in February 2015, and the case was closed in November of the same year, three months after Brinley was born, ending the supervision of the Snyder family by caseworkers.
At the time, according to Adams, returning the children seemed to be the “proper decision.” He did, however, continue, “If we could anticipate that this would happen, the children would never have been returned.”
Giving kudos to the investigators for their “relentless effort to obtain the truth of what took place here,” Adams said, “Anytime that any of us have to investigate, prosecute cases that involve the abuse or death of an innocent child, it all hits us in the heart and it is very emotional for all of us. To have two children taken at such a young age, what appears to be two very innocent children, it’s just not right and it’s not fair.”
He continued, “I don’t know if there’s any explanation for her behavior at all. I don’t think I can stand up here and explain the horrific loss of two innocent children’s lives.”
I couldn’t agree more.
In December, a drive organized by Melissa Blatt, a fifth grade teacher at Greenwich Elementary School, yielded astonishing results. Staff and students at the school, with the help of many individuals and businesses in the community, collected over 3,600 stuffed bears and other stuffed animals in remembrance of Conner and Brinley. Ms. Blatt said in a statement, “When Conner and Brinley Snyder died unexpectedly and tragically, everyone wanted to do something to help the community heal and to memorialize these two very special children. The idea was born to host a teddy bear collection in honor of Conner and Brinley and then donate the bears to local first responders, hospitals, and agencies to aid children.”
School staff, emergency response personnel, and first responders, including police and firefighters, formed a chain from the school gymnasium to load the thousands of toys into waiting police cruisers, ambulances, and fire trucks. On a wave of staff and students cheering and sirens blaring, the emergency vehicles departed with their cargo.
“The staff at Greenwich Elementary is overwhelmed and humbled by the positive response to the bear drive,” said Principal Erin J. Anderson and Superintendent Christian Temchatin in the statement. “We are eternally grateful to all those who donated and helped distribute the bears to those children in need of comfort. We are hopeful the bears are able to bring joy and comfort to others the way Conner and Brinley brought joy and comfort to all they knew.”
A GoFundMe has been set up to help 17-year-old Owen, who not only lost his brother and sister in September, but effectively lost his mother now that she has been arrested and charged with his siblings’ murders. “Adulting has hit this young man extremely fast,” the campaign organizer says in the description. I can’t even begin to imagine the magnitude of what Owen has had to endure since September 23, and my heart goes out to him. The campaign is close to reaching its goal; please consider donating if you have the means.
D.A. Adams said during his press conference that the state has yet to decide whether or not to seek the death penalty against Lisa.
This one took me several days to write up, because honestly, it’s easily one of the most insane, upsetting, fucked up stories I’ve ever heard, let alone written about.
Click here for my continuing coverage on this case.
Sources: The Daily Beast, The Morning Call, Heavy, TribLive, Buzzfeed News, True Crime Society, Reading Eagle, GoFundMe, Washington Post, NY Post, Crime Chicken Fried, Metro.co.uk, The Mercury