Kidnapping scares, unites neighborhood

July 10, 2007 

Olashawan Miller, 11, played basketball alone Monday afternoon in the alley behind his house near J Street and 25th Avenue in Tacoma.

His friends aren’t allowed out to play outside with him anymore. Not since one of them, 12-year-old Zina Linnik, was abducted last week.

“My friend, he can’t come into the alley until like two weeks from now,” Miller said. “Kids can’t leave their yard because their parents don’t want them to get kidnapped like Zina.”

The disappearance of Zina, who was grabbed late on the evening of July 4 from an alley just behind her J Street home, has parents on the Hilltop worried.

It also has prompted a strong community effort to find the missing girl and comfort her family, said Jeannie Peterson, director of community initiatives for the Hilltop Action Coalition.

Volunteers from the neighborhood and some from afar have distributed more than 4,000 fliers across the Puget Sound area seeking information that could lead to her return.

During the weekend, neighbors searched through garbage cans, just in case her abductor dropped some of her clothing inside.

Teachers and counselors who taught Zina at McCarver Elementary school went door to door with fliers appealing to anyone who might have information about her.

“They’re telling her story,” Peterson said. “Sometimes, if you get the flier, it’s just a piece of paper. This way, it’s not just another girl missing, it’s someone that somebody knew.”

Throughout the neighborhood, homeowners taped copies of the fliers, which include Zina’s picture, to their doors and windows.

Willie Horace, 67, said he would never have expected a kidnapping on the Hilltop, despite its history of drug-related crime. People look out for each other there, he said.

“We never had anything like this happen in the neighborhood,” Horace said. “There’s a lot of people and a lot of kids always out around here. It used to be kind of a rough area, but they got rid of a lot of these gang members and I think they’ve done a pretty good job. Now it’s in good shape.”

That Zina was an older victim, not just a small child or infant, was most worrisome to Delores Jennings, 43. Delores lives two blocks from Zina’s family with her two daughters, ages 15 and 16.

“A teenage kid being grabbed like that makes me feel like my kids are really vulnerable, no matter what age they are,” Jennings said. “People tend to be kind of lenient with their teenagers, but this makes me feel like maybe I should be doing something different.”

Jennings said she’d seen many police units in the area near the Linnik house, and she hoped police and community efforts would pay off and bring the girl home.

“I can’t imagine what the little girl is going through and her family,” she said.

Peterson said she thinks police have done a good job of reaching out to the community and are doing everything they can to find the girl.

“I’ve been here on the Hilltop since it was a pretty dangerous place to live, and I have never seen so many police out,” she said.

Despite the revival the neighborhood has undergone in recent years, resident Heather Wagner, 24, said the kidnapping didn’t take her by surprise. She never lets her four children play outside their yard or even next to the fence, partially due to the number of registered sex offenders in the neighborhood. The Pierce County Sheriff’s Department reports 41 registered sex offenders living within a half-mile of Zina Linnik’s home.

“I’d do that with my kids even in a really rich neighborhood,” Wagner said. “Sex offenders don’t just stay in the ghetto.”

Zina’s abduction reminds parents just how easy it is for kids to disappear, Wagner said.

“If you’re watching your kid outside playing and you turn around to put out a cigarette, they could be gone just like that,” she said.

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