At Glenelg High School, sticky notes posted around the building contain memories of 15-year-old Hailey Zanski.
Outside, flowers have been delicately placed in the parking spot of Braden Zanski, 17.
Howard County Police say the siblings were shot and killed by their father, who then killed himself. Days after their deaths, friends and fellow students recalled their warmth and kindness.
“He [Braden] treated us all like we were siblings, so we would play-fight or play pick on each other, but then if something happens to us, he would be right there, supporting us and making sure we are doing okay,” said a friend of Braden who asked to be referred to only as Mck because of privacy concerns.
Braden was a junior at Glenelg High School and also attended the Howard County school system’s Automotive Technology Academy, which Mck said Braden was passionate about.
Hailey was a sophomore at the same school in Western Howard County. She served as a peer tutor and was involved in her theater class and had recently performed a monologue, a classmate said.
“She just kind of got along with everyone,” said Quincy, a friend of Hailey who asked to be referred to by her first name because of privacy concerns. “She just made friends that easily, because of her lovely personality, and she was very open-minded and just a very nice person.”
Quincy said she can’t stop thinking about Hailey and Braden, and just hopes that they are in a better place now.
Authorities have released no additional information about what they are describing as a murder investigation.
“The death of any member of our school community is a loss, and the unexpected deaths of two of our students who are siblings is especially difficult to understand or accept,” principal Shawn Hastings-Hauf wrote in a letter to parents. “Both students and adults may struggle with managing their feelings and reactions to this news.”
A spokesperson for the county schools did not reply to a request for comment.
Braden and Hailey’s mother, Megan Ryan, has posted dozens of photos on Facebook since the killing of her two children. Community members, too, have shared their love and support in posts.
“Oh Megan, looking through these pictures brings back so many special memories for you and the family,” Abigail Watson commented on one of Megan Ryan’s posts. “I cannot even begin to image what you’re going through, but please know we’re here to support you. Your two kiddos were always so kind every summer when they came to the pool. Brayden humored my Nico and was so sweet to him. Praying for you and sending you love and healing. ❤️🩹”
On Tuesday, one of Ryan’s former colleagues at Centennial Medical Group created a gofundme fundraiser to help Ryan pay for funeral costs. Within two days, more than 1,400 people had donated; as of Sunday, 1,700 people had helped raise nearly $138,000 of the $150,000 goal.
“Megan has dedicated her life to helping others through her career in Healthcare Administration,” the donor message said. “She fearlessly faced the Covid-19 pandemic in person while raising her kids as a single Mom. Her children were ripped from this earth in an instant. Impossible to predict, even more impossible to understand why anyone would want to inflict any pain onto these two wonderful children. It has left Megan in shambles.”
Connor Ferguson, the campaign organizer, wrote that Ryan “supported our community for years, and now it’s time for the community to support this wonderful Mother.”
Many donors left messages, writing about how they knew Braden and Hailey, how their mother had taken care of their health issues at Centennial, and that they were praying for her.
“It was with great sadness that we learned the pass of Braden and Hailey,” Shengwei Zhu wrote on the gofundme campaign. “We live in the same street, and our son goes to the same high school. We are so sorry for your loss, cannot imagine your pain and grief at this time.”
Fellow classmates Michael and Emily Shi wrote a note with their donation telling Ryan how “Braden and Hailey were a vibrant part of our school community, and their absence leaves a void that words cannot fill. We may not fully understand the depth of your grief, but we offer our support, love, and thoughts during this difficult time. In these moments of deep sorrow, please know that we stand with you. May you find strength in the days ahead.”
Ryan and Christopher Zanski were married for 11 years before divorcing in 2014, according to court records. At the time, Braden and Hailey were ages 7 and 6, respectively, and the couple shared legal and physical custody of them.
About one year prior to the divorce, Christopher Zanski was hospitalized for a mental illness, according to the divorce record.
Christopher Zanski had no criminal record, and there were no known welfare checks at his home before Sunday, said Sherry Llewellyn, director of public affairs and media relations for the Howard County Police Department.
As the community grapples with the deaths of the siblings, high school friends of Braden and Hailey plan to honor them, Mck said.
“We’re trying to get the whole school on this, but when we get back to school eventually [after midterms] we’re all gonna wear pajama pants to represent Hailey, and then blue or teal or green shirts to represent Braden, because those are his favorite colors,” Mck said.
Hailey wore pajama pants to school frequently, so her friends chose to wear them in remembrance of her, Mck said.
Another student recalled taking a class field trip to New York City, and feeling lonely because she didn’t know anyone — until Hailey sat next to her on the bus ride. They talked about their similar taste in music, their favorite fashion styles and how much Hailey liked her boyfriend.
“We were stuck together like glue, and she [Hailey] helped introduce me to some of her other friends in our group,” said the girl, who asked to be identified only as a friend from theater class, citing privacy concerns. “This meant so much to me; before the trip, I felt like an outsider in theater class, since everyone already knew each other from previous years. Hailey was how I began to feel like I truly belonged. On the way back from New York, she napped on my shoulder. I remember sitting as still as possible, not wanting to disturb her.”
“Hailey was such a beautiful person, both inside and out. She cared so much for everybody, especially her family,” the friend added.
Hailey and her friend were peer tutors together at school, and the friend said Hailey was the most altruistic person she had ever met.
Braden’s friend Mck spoke similarly of him, mentioning how he never spoke badly of others. The teen laughed at his favorite memory of them together: “We were on the bus and he was just kinda sitting in the seat diagonal from me, like curled up in the weirdest position, and me and my friends were nagging at him because he was lip syncing full on like a teenage girl with the hairbrush, and we were just kind of nagging at him and he just played it off and was like, ‘Yeah, so what.’”
Mck said Braden loved to listen to music and studied hard, but could also play the class clown and be goofy. He mostly remembered Braden as happy.
Quincy said Hailey was bubbly, a good listener, and loved Harry Potter. She enjoyed spending time with friends and had a warm smile.
“I’m going to miss her so much,” another friend said. “Words cannot describe the heartbreak I feel right now for her and Braden. She didn’t deserve to die, and I know that wherever she is right now, she’s at peace. I’ll always cherish the impact she had on me; she will live on in the memories of her loved ones.”