$30,000 reward offered in killing

Columbia 7-Eleven clerk is remembered as quiet Belarus native who came to U.S. in '96

April 28, 2007|By Larry Carson | Larry Carson,sun reporter

Alevtina "Alina" Zhilina came to the United States in 1996 from Belarus in eastern Europe, where her parents still live. The 40-year-old woman was described as a quiet, private person who liked to read, wanted to work nights and sometimes walked about three miles to her job at the Columbia 7-Eleven where she was fatally shot early Thursday.

Howard County police were searching yesterday for a man seen running from the convenience store in the 5700 block of Columbia Road in Running Brook just after the 3:10 a.m. shooting. A witness told police the man was 5 foot 8 to 5 foot 10 and wore a mask and a hooded sweat shirt.

Authorities said they aren't sure what prompted the killing, but police and 7-Eleven are offering a combined $30,000 reward for information that leads to an indictment.

The store was to reopen today. Grief counselors met with the store's workers yesterday behind windows covered with brown paper. Yellow police crime scene tape blocked the sidewalk, and a small, makeshift memorial sat under a tree in front of the store.

Earl Winterling, who identified himself at the store as the chain's area loss prevention manager, said 7-Eleven is making arrangements with Zhilina's parents in Minsk, the capital of Belarus, to send her body home for burial. Belarus is a country of about 10 million people that had been part of the former Soviet Union.

County police also notified her ex-husband in the United States, they said, after contacting him through the Belarus Embassy in Washington. The embassy refused to identify her ex-husband.

She had "permanent resident" status and was in the United States legally, police said.

Bonny Knight, a former counselor for FIRN, a private nonprofit immigrant aid society in Columbia, said she helped Zhilina find a job and a place to live when she came to Howard County from Arizona in early 2000 after a divorce. Zhilina had emigrated from Belarus in 1996, said Roy Appletree, FIRN's director.

"She was slender, attractive," but very private, Knight recalled. "She was a hard worker. I think she really had it pretty hard in Belarus" because of poverty and the lack of opportunity there. She had a self-deprecating sense of humor, and she wanted night work, Knight said.

A woman who said that she rented Zhilina space in her two-story townhouse in Harper's Choice, one of Columbia's 10 villages, mourned her death yesterday.

"She was an artist. I liked her very much. She was a very good person. She liked the outdoors. She liked to garden, and the small animals and birds," said the weeping woman, who did not want to be publicly identified.

Zhilina's killing was Howard County's second homicide this year. In February, an 18-year-old man, Robert A. Brazell Jr. of Ellicott City, died after being hit in the head with a baseball bat during a late-night melee outside Mount Hebron High School.

Kathy Wragg, the 7-Eleven franchise owner, operates two convenience stores in Howard County. The other is on U.S. 40 in Ellicott City. Wragg was unavailable for comment yesterday.

The Running Brook 7-Eleven store in Wilde Lake village has been robbed three times since 2005, most recently in February.

Yesterday, a small bouquet of flowers, a blue stuffed toy bunny, a blue "Peace" candle, two small brown teddy bears, a long-stemmed red flower and a tiny gift-wrapped box sat under a tree outside the store.

"In loving memory of a life taken. Rest in Peace with the Angels," the card on the flowers read.


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