The father of a 13-year-old Kensington girl who died in a 1988 murder-suicide accused the Montgomery County school system yesterday of negligence for not notifying him of his child's apparent death pact with another girl.
Stephen Eisel, testifying in a civil trial in Montgomery County Circuit Court, said his daughter was a typical teenager who did not exhibit any unusual behavior.
"I never thought she was suicidal," said Eisel, 42.
Eisel was the first witness in the suit that he filed in 1989 seeking more than $1 million. The suit accuses the Montgomery County Board of Education, county school administrators and two middle school counselors of negligence in the deaths of Nicole Eisel and Marsha Urevich, also 13.
Stephen Eisel alleges in his wrongful-death suit that Montgomery school officials failed to inform him of his daughter's intent to commit suicide and failed to intervene to prevent the girls' deaths after classmates allegedly told school officials of the suicide pact.
In opening statements yesterday, JoAnn Robertson, an assistant county attorney representing the Montgomery school system, disputed Eisel's claims.
"This is a case about responsibility and scapegoating," Robertson said. "They want you to blame the school system . . . but that's not how it went down."
Police found the bodies of Nicole Eisel and Marsha Urevich on Nov. 9, 1988, in a picnic area in the Wheaton section of Rock Creek Park. Investigators said Marsha shot Nicole in the head and then shot herself with a .32-caliber pistol taken from Marsha's house. An autopsy report found gunpowder residue on Marsha's hand but none on Nicole's.
Yesterday, Eisel, a field services manager for Bell Atlantic, sobbed and wiped tears as he recalled the death of his troubled child. Eisel testified that he was "shocked and caught off guard" by his daughter's death. He said that his daughter was a poor student who had failed one grade, but that she did not use alcohol or illegal drugs.
Police said both girls had a history of drug use.
A single parent, Eisel said he discussed his daughter's problems "many times" with teachers and school counselors.
"Every time they spoke to me, I reacted," Eisel said. "I was frustrated, but I was doing the best I could for her."
At the time of the girls' deaths, investigators said friends of the victims told police that Nicole and Marsha were fascinated by the occult. A 13-year-old friend told school counselors that Nicole had said the girls wanted to kill themselves and that they referred to the devil as "papa," Eisel's attorney, Edward Gerstenfield, said in opening statements.
But yesterday, Eisel said he was unaware of his daughter's interest in the devil. "In 1988, I never thought anything about Satanism," he said.
In opening statements, Robertson said that school officials followed state guidelines for suicide crisis intervention and that Stephen Eisel ignored warnings from neighbors and Marsha's parents about the girls' close relationship.
Robertson said school counselors, Dorothy Jones and Diedere Morgan, were never told by Nicole's classmates of an alleged death pact between the two girls. Robertson said school officials called Stephen Eisel regularly about his daughter's schoolwork and poor attendance.
"Does it make sense that they would not call him if they knew one of the girls had a gun and planned to kill themselves?" Robertson said.
The jury trial before Judge L. Leonard Ruben is scheduled to last about a week.