Special Reports

Girl was full of faith, fun, say loved ones

A 10-year-old child left a simple message in front of Zina Linnik’s Tacoma Hilltop home Friday.

“Zina, I hope you get better in heaven. Love, Gabi,” it reads.

Zina was a pious, shy and smart 12-year-old girl who friends said was a wiz at tetherball. She held a deeply treasured place in her close family of Ukranian immigrants, said Anatoly Kalchik, an extended family member.

“She was the shy one and one of the best kids,” said Kalchik, a real estate broker in Federal Way.

Kalchik said Zina, a middle child in a family with eight children, definitely was the favorite of the younger kids in the household.

“When they are in church and a younger child needs help to go to the bathroom or something, they say, ‘Who do you want to go with you?’” he said. “The children always say Zina.”

The Linnik family attends services at the Slavic Christian Center in Tacoma. Associate Pastor Andrey Ivantsov said Zina stood out among the congregation for her devotion.

“It’s kind of unique for a little girl to be such a good prayer,” he said. “She can pray, 30 minutes, 40 minutes without interruption.”

Zina also liked to have fun.

Bubba Dillingham Jr., 10, went to McCarver Elementary School with Zina and lived a block away from her on the Hilltop. He said they played together every day at recess.

“She loves to play tetherball,” he said. “That’s all she would do, play tetherball every day.”

Who usually won? “She did.”

Bubba said Zina would walk home after school with him and his cousin. He will miss her.

“She was a nice friend,” he said.

Olashawan Miller, 11, said he went to first grade with Zina but that she skipped second and went straight into third grade “because she was so smart.”

Olashawan used to play basketball with Zina in the alley where she was kidnapped. He said Zina was careful and never talked to strangers.

“She was quiet,” he said. “She talked to us and her friends and stuff, but when strangers passed by in their cars, she didn’t wave to them or anything.”

Zina spent the last school year at Jason Lee Middle School, according to a school district spokeswoman, who said Zina was quiet, bright and well-liked.

The Linnik family was secluded inside their home Friday. People who didn’t know the family but were moved by the tragedy left flowers, teddy bears and notes of condolence in front of the home.

“They are a very good family, a very strong family, ” said Ivantsov, associate pastor at their church.

Zina’s uncle, Dmitry, who preferred not to have his last name published, looked weary to his soul. He said there are so many arrangements to make, like scheduling services, at a time of such pain for the family.

Kalchik, the real estate broker, whose sister married into the Linnik family, said they are reaching deep into the reservoir of their faith. The family survived religious persecution in the Soviet Union before coming to Tacoma a decade ago to find a better life, he said.

“It’s really, really hard at this moment,” he said. “But they are strong because they are believers. Because they believe in God it gives them power.”

He said the pain is difficult, but it might be even worse to never know what happened to Zina.

“At least we know where she is,” he said.

Sean Cockerham: 253-597-8603