Special Reports

A child with ‘sweet style, kind spirit’

Mikhail Linnik’s last memory of his daughter is of Zina being taken away in a gray van.

At her funeral on Sunday, he described what he considers Zina’s farewell: Over the past few months, he’d occasionally catch her silently observing the family, taking in the sights and sounds of the 10-member household.

“It was like a sign of her seeing us for the last time,” he said through a translator, struggling with his tears.

Zina’s family was dearest to her, but the 1,300-seat Slavic Christian Center couldn’t hold all the people she touched. Neighbors, teachers, strangers and members of her congregation sat shoulder-to-shoulder, stood in the stairwell, crowded the balcony and filled in the lobby to remember the quiet, pious 12-year-old girl who was snatched from an alley near her parents’ home on the night of July 4.

As they watched Mikhail Linnik, his head hanging, shuffle back to his seat beside his wife, four sons and three remaining daughters, many in the Slavic Christian Center wept silently.

Over the nearly three-hour memorial, those who knew Zina recounted how she exuded faith, loved her family and relished swimming and recess tetherball matches.

She’d skip recess once a week to indulge in another favorite: “Fruit Roll-Up Tuesday,” when she’d stay indoors to eat her favorite snack with her sister and Katie Thaut, her reading teacher.

“Her sweet style and kind spirit quickly won my heart,” Thaut said. “She was my favorite student.”

Zina also loved the zoo, where Thaut took her and her sister a few weeks ago.

“I can still hear Zina’s laughter,” she said.

Zina’s former principal at McCarver Elementary School, Mary Chapman, said Zina took her studies seriously and learned English quickly. The recess supervisor also said she was struck at how graceful Zina was when she’d win tetherball matches. “She’d quietly smile and play some more.”

“Zina exemplified the very best of what a student should be,” she said.

In the several times of prayer throughout the service, the Pentecostal church hummed with parishioners mumbling prayers in Russian, Ukrainian or English.

During a slide show, two 10-foot screens showed photos of a reserved, slight child with expressive eyes. Below the screens sat a choir of 50, a collection of pastors and a closed white and gold casket with a halo of floral arrangements.

The service, attended by hundreds of people from outside the conservative Tacoma church, at times demonstrated the kind of cultural divide the devout child faced daily.

Most women of the parish do not wear makeup and cover their hair with thin white veils, but visitors to the church weren’t always so modest. People could be seen snapping photos with their cell phones throughout the funeral.

Yet if the church members’ cultural sensibilities were tested, no one let on. Each of the pastors thanked the crowd multiple times.

“Thousands of people have expressed condolences,” said the church’s associate pastor, Andrey Ivanstov.

“Their prayers, their words of encouragement, in a special way have revealed the unity in this tragedy,” he said, through a translator.

Church leaders spoke of Zina’s commitment to her faith and invited civic leaders and law enforcement officers to speak.

Tacoma Police Chief Don Ramsdell said that her death will not be in vain, because it might help police find other crimes by the same person.

A letter read during the service from Tacoma Mayor Bill Baarsma, quoted the biblical passage, “The righteous are taken away to be spared from evil.”

Quiet sobbing could be heard around the church from those who realized Zina might rest in peace now, but wasn’t spared from evil.

Zina’s body was found in rural Pierce County on Thursday, the victim of a homicide, according to police. A suspect, Terapon Adhahn, 42, is in custody.

But as tragic as Zina’s death was, her faith doesn’t make room for hatred, the mourners were reminded.

“Jesus tells us to love our enemies and forgive them,” said one pastor through a translator.

“It’s easy to say. But as Christians, we are to forgive, knowing that Christ has forgiven us.”

At the end of the service, Zina’s brothers and sisters scooted behind her casket at the direction of her parents, who stood beside a large photo of their middle child. Then, as the masses watched, the Linniks took their last complete family photo.

Niki Sullivan: 253-597-8658