When Suzanne Zaremba found a masked intruder in her daughter’s bedroom, she fought to save her family.
A￼s the clock struck midnight on New Year’s Eve, Charlotte Zaremba had a lifetime ahead of her.
The 16-year-old was seeing in 2017 with her friend Marisa and had planned to stay the night at her house. But when Marisa fell ill, Charlotte’s mum, Suzanne, gladly came to pick up her beloved daughter. After driving back to the family home Charlotte grew up in with her sister, Audrey, 20, and father, Jim, they all went to sleep. Suddenly, at around 2am, Suzanne woke up and heard strange sounds coming from Charlotte’s room.
Getting up to investigate, she was confronted by a shocking scene. Reaching her daughter’s room, she saw a masked intruder. With only his eyes visible, he was on his knees grappling with Charlotte near her bedroom window. Seeing her mum, Charlotte called out for help.
‘Jim!’ Suzanne screamed to her husband, rushing to help her daughter fight off her attacker. Grabbing Charlotte, she tried frantically to pull her away from danger but the three of them tumbled to the floor.
Shockingly, the intruder pulled out a gun and pointed it at Suzanne’s chest. In a moment that saved her life, she reached out and pulled the weapon down as the gunman fired. The bullet ripped into her leg. When she looked down and saw Charlotte, she realised she’d been shot, too. It had all happened so quickly.
Horrified, she raced to her daughter’s aid. The teenager was gasping for air and had a glazed look on her face. A registered nurse, Suzanne frantically tried to help Charlotte breathe. That was when Jim raced into the room. He too was a nurse, and started performing CPR on Charlotte.It was clear the teenager was critically wounded. All the while, the mystery gunman was still in the room. Even knowing they could be shot at any time, the couple never considered abandoning their precious daughter.
‘I wasn’t being brave. I was saving my baby,’ Suzanne said to The Washington Post afterwards. Having been shot in the lungs, Charlotte’s life was ebbing away. As they battled to save her, the gunman simply sat and stared. Then, he raised the gun. Pointing it at his own head, he pulled the trigger and fired.
When emergency services arrived, all four were taken to hospital. In their hearts, Jim and Suzanne knew Charlotte’s injuries were too severe. Tragically, they were right and she passed away at the hospital. Her killer died two days later.
In the hospital, being treated for her own injuries, Suzanne struggled to understand why anyone would want to harm her big-hearted daughter. Charlotte had volunteered in Costa Rica, building a children’s playground. Once, she’d started a petition calling on her classmates to stop using derogatory words to describe people with disabilities. Charlotte had planned to go to university to become
a surgeon to save lives, so it was unthinkable that now she would never even finish high school.
When police spoke with Charlotte’s devastated family, they told them the name of her killer – Sean Crizer. The Zarembas had never heard of him. Crizer was just 15 and a student at Charlotte’s school. He lived with his grandfather less than a kilometre away from the family.
Described by students as funny, perhaps a little odd but not worryingly so, he’d recently become an altar boy at the local church. Police tried to establish a motive, but found no link between the teens. But then a good friend of Charlotte’s, Juliana Torres, revealed a possible motive.
She said Crizer had spoken to Charlotte to ask her to go with him to a dance at their school. He’d explained he had feelings for her, the schoolgirl said.‘She didn’t reciprocate, but he didn’t react poorly,’ Juliana told The Washington Post. ‘She said she wanted to go with friends. She was kind about it.’
Meanwhile, police were able to reveal more about the gunman’s past. He’d been in trouble with the law, burgling homes in the area. The gun he’d used to kill Charlotte was stolen, but detectives found no definitive motive for Sean being in Charlotte’s room that night. Had he acted out of revenge over the school formal? With Crizer dead, there was no way of knowing.
Charlotte, described as ‘tiny but mighty’ by her distraught friends, was remembered with a candlelit vigil.
Ten months on, her family may never know why their daughter was taken. But they’ve vowed to make sure her memory lives on.
Speaking at Charlotte’s funeral, her aunt, Mary Helen Sprecher, explained Charlotte had wanted to change the world. ‘She didn’t have as much time on this earth to change it the way she wanted to,’ she said. ‘But I think in the short time that she was here, she did change the world in her own way.’
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