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Neighbors say Utah shooting victim was 'nice quiet neighbor'

Published March 21, 2014 7:28 am

Crime • Police have detained 17-year-old boy as suspect.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2014, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Before Geraldine Bommarito was killed in her Toquerville home, she was a kind neighbor who was excited to grow her craft spa products business, friends and colleagues say.

Instead, the 58-year-old was shot to death this week, and Washington County sheriff's deputies have detained her 17-year-old neighbor as a suspect in the homicide.

"She was just a very nice, quiet neighbor," said Virginia Olson, who lives near Bommarito's home on Ash Creek Drive. "She never bothered anybody."

Bommarito's body was found as detectives investigated a separate burglary, reported just after midnight Wednesday at another Toquerville home.

Deputies had identified a teenager who may have been connected with the burglary; after they spotted the boy in a car, he got out and fled from them on foot, said Chief Deputy Shauna Jones. An hour or two later, deputies received a tip that the boy was fueling a different car at a gas station in nearby Washington City. The boy already had left when officers arrived, but the tipster provided a license plate number, which investigators traced back to Bommarito, the registered owner.

When deputies arrived at Bommarito's home — not the same residence earlier reported to have been burglarized — they found her body and evidence she had been shot at least once. Investigators believe she had been killed sometime during the hour or two that passed after the teen fled from deputies on foot and before he was seen fueling her car at the gas station, Jones said.

The teen was found and detained just after noon Wednesday in Springdale. Detectives have learned he knew the victim, but they are not related, said Jones.

Deputies recovered guns that were taken in the burglary and began searching by helicopter for Bommarito's car. In a remote area near Springdale, they spotted what appeared to be her car, but it had been thoroughly burned and the license plate was no longer legible. Detectives on Thursday were trying to find the VIN number on the burned vehicle, Jones said.

Neighbor Robert Olson, who knows Bommarito and the teenage suspect, confirmed that the boy lives near Bommarito's home but did not identify him.

Friends of Bommarito said they were shocked and heartsick to learn of her death.

"She was just a very nice woman," Robert Olson said. "She had a very nice little dog that was with her all the time. She appreciated anything you did for her.

"It hurts that she's gone."

Bommarito, who used to work as a salon nail tech, made all-natural cosmetic soaps and scrubs in a home business called Sicilian Secret. She sold them at the Zion Canyon Farmers Market and "was getting herself quite a nice clientele," said market manager Lisa Zumpft. Her products recently had been picked up by other retailers, according to Bommarito's LinkedIn profile.

Zumpft described Bommarito as "a real salesperson" who would mingle with shoppers and persuade doubters to try her products.

"She was really having fun making her soap and getting lots of good feedback," Zumpft said. "She was quite a character."

Bommarito also volunteered at Zion National Park, Olson said. The park inspired her fragrance line, Zion Perfume & Fragrance, created from scents of local plants "for those who enjoy the park and want to remember their incredible sensory experience," Bommarito wrote.

Bommarito moved to Toquerville about five years ago, the Olson's estimated. She hailed from an Italian-American family in Las Vegas; Zumpft said she and Bommarito realized as adults they had attended the same high school.

"She was very proud of her name and her Sicilian heritage," Zumpft said.

The teenage suspect remained in custody on Thursday but had not been formally arrested or booked into jail, Jones said. She said he had not been interviewed by investigators and would not disclose his whereabouts.

ealberty@sltrib.com

Twitter: @erinalberty