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Former Commack mom charged in disabled son's killing

Tracey Zetzsche, 52, is escorted out of Westerlo

Tracey Zetzsche, 52, is escorted out of Westerlo Town Hall after a court appearance. (July 31, 2012) Credit: Albany Times Union/Will Waldron

The mother of a Commack High School graduate was arrested upstate Tuesday, charged with killing her physically handicapped son, police said.

The bludgeoned body of Gabriel Philby-Zetsche, 22, was discovered Monday morning in a house in upstate Westerlo, where he and his mother, Tracy Zetsche, 52, had lived for about a year, police said.

Albany County Sheriff Craig Apple said the young man's body was discovered by a relative in an upstairs bedroom. He had been dead since Thursday, Apple said, but the mother -- who has been charged with second-degree murder -- stayed in the apartment with the body.

"We're still trying to piece this whole puzzle together," Apple said. "I can't really discuss the motive at this point, but there was a violent disturbance in the apartment, and he was bludgeoned several times and stabbed. . . . The evidence is overwhelming."

Philby-Zetsche apparently had limited use of one of his arms due to cerebral palsy, he said. An autopsy determined that Philby-Zetsche, also known as Philby-Zetzsche and Gabe Philby, was killed by a stab wound to the chest and multiple blunt force stab wounds.

Zetsche, represented by an attorney, was not cooperating with the investigation Monday, Apple said, but was arrested Tuesday after the autopsy findings. She was held without bail, he said, and no arraignment was immediately scheduled.

Russell Stewart, Philby-Zetsche’s high school principal, said he was “never a problem” and treated him like he treated everybody else, giving him a high five each time they saw each other.

“If you knew Gabe, you would have loved him,” said Stewart, now superintendent of the Center Moriches school district.

“For the life of me, it doesn’t make sense. How could this happen?” Stewart said Tuesday night. “He was such a kind young man.”

In a long education career, Philby-Zetsche stood out, Stewart said: “He’s one of those students you remember well.”

Philby-Zetsche never let his curled-up left arm get in the way, whether he was bowling or keeping in touch through Facebook, said his friend Billy Lentsch, 21, of Commack.

"He was always hanging out with us, giving us high fives and screaming our names down the hall," Lentsch said, recalling that he gave such strong high fives that Lentsch's hand would sting. "Everything he did was absolutely from his heart. He recognized everybody . . . To be honest, he probably had more friends than I did in high school."

Another friend and classmate, Charles Wojcik, said Philby-Zetsche loved the Yankees and Knicks, and they would talk about the teams through Facebook as the pair parted after graduation.

They had both been on the school's 10th grade bowling team and if someone messed up, Philby-Zetsche was the morale raiser. "He was great as far as making everyone laugh," said Wojcik, 21, a Marine at Camp Lejeune in North Carolina. "I don't think anyone ever saw him with a frown on his face."

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