An east Mesa smoke-shop owner who cared so much about some of her loyal customers that she encouraged them to quit smoking is believed to be the victim of a robbery-homicide that occurred sometime Sunday. The victim, a Gilbert resident who emigrated from South Korea with her parents when she was 7, is believed to have been killed during a “robbery gone badly.” Her body was actually found by one such loyal customer who immediately called 911.

Sgt. Tony Landato, a police spokesman, said the customer found the woman dead behind the counter at 7:40p.m. Sunday saying that the victim suffered “obvious signs of trauma,” but police are not releasing how she was slain. He said police have no description of the assailant, but robbery was the apparent motive. Meanwhile, the victim’s name is being withheld pending notification of her family.

Many of the victim’s loyal customers are still in shock and disbelief and have been coming by to pay their respects with cards and flowers placed just outside the store. She has been described almost like a bartender at a neighborhood watering hole, giving customers advice, recommending an honest auto mechanic to one woman and trying to get legal help for another. She even would allow her regular customers at Cigarettes 4 Less to buy items on credit until their paychecks arrived.

Customers also agreed that the store owner was beyond just security conscious, she was often scared. The victim is said to have even had rules designed to improve her shop’s security. She made customers take off their hats, for instance, so their faces would be clearer on her video-surveillance camera. Bonnie Lanchman, a customer and friend, said she would spend hours at the store keeping the victim company because the owner was so worried about working alone.

Lanchman said the owner worked from 8:30a.m. to 8:30p.m., seven days a week at the store, near Main Street and Greenfield Road.

Curtis Pence, another customer, said he would help the victim occasionally by pushing teenagers out the door. He said she refused to sell to underage customers. “If she didn’t want your business, it was, ‘Get out the store.’ If you looked suspicious or had an attitude, it was, ‘Get out of the store,’” he said.

Police are hopeful someone saw or heard something that will help them find this woman’s killer and her loyal customers and friends also want someone to pay. No word yet on what, if anything, the surveillance cameras picked up, but so far police do not have any sort of suspect description.

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