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Aspiring teacher killed

Beau Zabel, 23, came to Philadelphia from Minnesota six weeks ago, eager to experience urban East Coast living and to become a math teacher in the city school system.

Beau Zabel, 23, came to Philadelphia from Minnesota six weeks ago, eager to experience urban East Coast living and to become a math teacher in the city school system.

He found a place to live through roommates.com in South Philadelphia near the Italian Market, and took a temporary job at the Starbucks at Fourth and South Streets.

He recently updated his page on myspace.com, which proclaims his optimism: "Just waiting for life to begin."

But his life ended at about 1:30 a.m. today, when police said Zabel was ambushed as he walked home from the midnight shift at the coffee shop. He was shot once in the neck in the 800 block of Ellsworth Street and fell to the sidewalk, police said.

He was pronounced dead at the scene.

The motive was robbery, said Sgt. Frank Hayes of the homicide squad. No arrests were made.

"I thought I had to worry about him in the classroom, not on the streets," said his mother, Lana Zamora, by telephone yesterday from Austin, Minn. She was preparing to fly to Philadelphia.

Zamora said that she had driven her son here on May 2, and was assured by his new roommate that the neighborhood was safe. Now she is filled with disbelief, and regret.

"Beau decided what he wanted to do," she said. "I raised my children to make their own decisions."

The second of three children, Zabel appeared to be a young man of great promise.

An Eagle Scout, he grew up in the small city of Austin near the Iowa border, where Hormel produces meat products and the city proudly proclaims itself "Spam Town USA." He graduated in 2007 from Augustana College, a liberal arts school in Rock Island, Ill., where he studied mathematics, Spanish, philosophy and computer science.

"He was a really good student," said Thomas Bengston, chairman of the Augustana math department, who described Zabel as good-natured and easy-going. "Things didn't get him down."

Zabel was attracted to teaching, but did not have a degree in education. He was drawn to the Philadelphia Teaching Fellows program because he could teach in city public schools while concurrently getting his certification through Drexel University.

Zabel chose Philadelphia over a similar program in Chicago so he could be near an aunt who lives in Lancaster, Pa., said Zamora. He planned to have dinner on Friday with his cousin, she said.

On Ellsworth Street today, neighborhood youth casually played basketball just a few feet from where the young man fell, oblivious to the stained sidewalk. Neighbors expressed shock that a violent crime had occurred on their quiet block, though some grumbled about the recent influx of immigrants as a signal that the neighborhood was changing.

Deena Burgase said she was awoken by the shot and immediately dismissed it as a problem with the utility lines -- the electrical equipment had popped off recently. It was only after police arrived that Burgase understood that a young man had been killed across the narrow street from her row house.

"I thought it was a transformer explosion," she said. "This is the first shooting in our neighborhood."

Police told neighbors that they would be studying any video of the area that night. There is a police camera on Washington Avenue, and Zabel is believed to have walked near the camera on his way home.

Sgt. Tim Cooney said Zabel's pockets had been turned out, but he still had his personal effects, including his wallet. Police believe only one assailant was involved.

Zabel was the city's 139th homicide this year, compared to 181 by this time last year.

Zabel's mother got the word yesterday and was eager for any news. "We don't have a whole lot of murders up here," she said.

She was stoic in the way of the upper Midwest, but also numbed by the news. She works as a victim advocate for a nonprofit organization, but did not fully comprehend victimization until yesterday.

"I've worked with a lot of victims," she said. "It's different -- a way different feeling -- when you're the victim. I thought I would be angry, but right now I don't care what happens to the people who did this.

"It won't bring my son back."

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