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A year later, few clues in Beau Zabel slaying

According to Beau Zabel's life plan, in the coming weeks he would have been wrapping up his first year as a math teacher in the Philadelphia School District.

A memorial for 23-year-old Beau Zabel was placed in front of his home last year. (Neal Santos / File Photograph)
A memorial for 23-year-old Beau Zabel was placed in front of his home last year. (Neal Santos / File Photograph)Read more

According to Beau Zabel's life plan, in the coming weeks he would have been wrapping up his first year as a math teacher in the Philadelphia School District.

Maybe he would have made plans to celebrate that accomplishment. Maybe he would have lined up a summer job, as he did last spring when he moved here from Minnesota to follow his dream of working in urban schools.

Except that Zabel was slain a year ago today as he walked home from that summer job at Starbucks. He died at 23, a block from his apartment, shot by an unknown assailant who took his iPod but left his cash and wallet.

Despite widespread publicity, a segment on America's Most Wanted, and a $35,000 reward, no arrests have been made.

"It's tragic," said Philadelphia Police Lt. Walter Bell. "It's a tragic case that we want solved as much as anyone."

Based on "the lack of information we got from the community and our informants," Bell said, homicide investigators now believe the killer might have come from outside the city or even the state.

Police are still investigating leads, including an out-of-state man recently arrested on robbery charges in Philadelphia, but the flow of new information has stalled. Zabel's killing was one of 333 in the city last year, leaving authorities with little choice but to move on to other investigations until they get a break in the case.

Zabel's parents were scheduled to arrive in Philadelphia over the weekend, to visit the site of their son's death near the Italian Market and to meet with detectives again. But Zabel's father, Terry, said he didn't expect to learn that anything had changed.

Zabel's mother, Lana Zamora of Austin, Minn., still breaks down in tears when she talks about her son. Terry Zabel also choked up when he recalled how much his son had been enjoying his newly adopted city.

"We still feel a lot of pain, and anger at the person who did this," Terry Zabel said. "And we feel a lot of sadness. . . . But you have to move on."

The second of three children, Beau Zabel was an Eagle Scout who grew up in Austin, near the Iowa border. Friends and family said his optimism and enthusiasm were contagious.

He chose to pursue a degree in education with the Philadelphia Teaching Fellows program, which would have allowed him to teach in city public schools while getting certified through Drexel University. He was expected to start classes last fall.

He took the job at Starbucks, at Fourth and South Streets, so he would have an income until the university program started. He worked the night shift June 14, a Saturday, got out about 1:30 a.m., and started toward home.

Surveillance cameras at the intersection of Washington and Passyunk Avenues videotaped him as he passed near the Italian Market and turned down Ellsworth Street to his apartment.

"Beau was trusting, and he didn't think of Philadelphia as not being a safe place," his father said. "Even at 1 o'clock in the morning, he thought he was safe."

Zamora said her son had loved the feeling of freedom he got from exploring his neighborhood and walking around the city.

"Beau met up with evil that night," she said.

Zabel's killer ambushed him on the 800 block of Ellsworth, shooting him once in the neck. His front shirt pocket, where friends told police he always kept his iPod, was empty and turned inside out. His backpack, containing his wallet, credit cards, and $27, was still at the scene.

Surveillance cameras at local businesses recorded what police believe might have been the killer coming to the area and then leaving sometime after the slaying. The grainy footage shows a man on Alter Street, one street north of Ellsworth, placing an object - perhaps a gun or Zabel's iPod - in a flower pot, then leaving. Some time later, the man returned and retrieved the object.

Police said the man on the video appears to be black and in his 20s, 5-foot-6 to 5-foot-9, and about 150 pounds. He was wearing a large white T-shirt, dark jeans, and Adidas sneakers.

A 9mm shell casing was found near Zabel's body, but it matched nothing that police found at other crime scenes.

Zabel's killing shocked neighborhood residents, some of whom have lived in the area all their lives without brushing up against the violence that pervades parts of the city.

For Meg Guerreiro, Zabel's roommate for about a month on Ellsworth Street, the reminders are constant.

"People talk about it everywhere I go," said Guerreiro, who is finishing her first year teaching at Juniata Park Academy in North Philadelphia. "Even people who don't know I was his roommate talk about it. It affected a lot of people."

After Zabel died, Guerreiro, who has since moved to a different neighborhood, planned a fund-raiser in his honor to sponsor a runner in a marathon, and she helped set up a memorial scholarship in Zabel's name. She wanted Zabel's outlook to continue to inspire people.

Like Guerreiro, Amy Krivda, 26, says she has become far more aware of her surroundings when she's out at night. She lives across the street from where Zabel was killed.

"It just surprises you because, even being in a city, in a neighborhood like this, you just don't think anything's going to happen to you," she said. "It was a real reminder that you're not always going to be safe."

To Help the Case

Anyone with information about Beau Zabel's murder is asked to call police at 215-686-3334. To inquire about collecting the reward, call the Citizens Crime Commission of Delaware Valley's tip line at 215-546-8477 (TIPS). Tipsters may remain anonymous and must receive a code from the operator.