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Parents on Lonely Quest for Closure

June 16, 2008

By Jessica Van Sack, Boston Herald

Jun. 16–Their hearts are aching, their minds numb since that night from hell four weeks ago, when a mysterious killer fatally shot their beautiful daughter in the chest and both legs as she fought for her life in her off-campus Boston apartment.

But Nicholas and Virginia Payne, sickened from the shock of losing their only child, still hold on to the hope some honest person will step forward with information and the killer will be found.

The Paynes believe someone must have heard their 22-year-old daughter’s desperate struggle to live. And they are certain someone in the three-story building knows more than they’re saying.

“They must’ve heard all kinds of things,” Rebecca’s father, Nicholas Payne, 58, told the Beat in a phone interview. “We slept there two nights back in August when she moved in, and you can hear pretty well through the apartment walls, the ceilings and the floor.”

The vivacious student, a senior in Northeastern’s Bouve College of Health Sciences who aspired to work with athletes, was found shot to death May 20 inside her Mission Hill apartment at 170 Parker Hill Ave., marking one of the most perplexing homicides in recent memory.

The Paynes of New Milford, Conn., are consumed not just by loss, but by the disturbing revelation that neighbors never called for help. Tenants in the building claimed to have heard only gunshots — and seen little other than a van speeding away — as their daughter fought for her life sometime between 2 and 3 that morning.

No one called police until hours later, when a building manager saw her door ajar and spotted blood at about 6:50 a.m.

In a neighborhood hardly immune to gunfire, the Paynes find the various excuses for inaction impossible to accept.

“The whole thing about neighbors saying if they called police every time they heard gunshots they’d be calling all the time? Yeah, right,” Nicholas said. “We were shocked by that.”

There were no signs of forced entry into Rebecca’s apartment, and investigators don’t believe she was robbed or sexually assaulted. Police have made it clear that Rebecca did not go down without a fight, leaving “obvious” signs of a struggle, one BPD source said.

Rebecca left her job at Legal Sea Foods sometime after 10 p.m. on May 19. Investigators believe she got home after 11 p.m., probably taking the T to Brigham Circle, perhaps stopping somewhere on campus in between. She spoke to her boyfriend, who was out of town, on her cell phone as she walked up the dark hill to her apartment.

She chatted with another friend on the phone when she got home, exhibiting no signs of something amiss. And then, the trail runs cold.

Homicide investigators are running down a number of theories: Could she have been a victim of mistaken identity in a botched hit? Did Rebecca befriend the wrong person?

The Paynes are haunted by the full range of scenarios. They wonder whether their daughter’s penchant for spontaneity might have drawn the wrong companion.

“But that doesn’t make any sense either,” Payne said. “Because at 2:30 a.m., we can’t imagine there’d be somebody she knew who wasn’t known to anyone else. If anyone in her mind is creepy, she knows it, and she’ll say so. And anyone she knew would have called first.”

The Paynes buried their only child. They have not moved on with their lives. But they fear that the rest of the world has.

jvansack@bostonherald.com

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