She kept a band saw in her living room and was ‘a really loud fisher’: Here’s what daughters of a slain Utah code-enforcement officer will miss most about their mom

(Photo courtesy of Halie and Katie Merrill) Jill Robinson smiles with her dog in this undated family photo.

West Valley City • When Halie and Katie Merrill walked into their mom’s house the first time after she died, they found a band saw planted in the middle of the living room.

It sat among the other furniture last week, as casual as a coffee table. And it made them laugh. It reminded them of how quirky Jill Robinson was, how much she loved projects.

“She was always busy working on something,” Halie Merrill said. “She was very creative.”

The sisters reflected on their mother’s life Monday, four days after she was killed while working as a code-enforcement officer for West Valley City. Robinson had been conducting a routine follow-up at a house that had received a violation notice. The homeowner shot her in his driveway, police say, and set fire to her city vehicle.

Then, Kevin Wayne Billings, 64, allegedly burned down his next-door neighbor’s house at 4114 W. Wendy Ave. He was booked into jail Thursday.

Robinson, 52, had worked for the city for 10 years in code enforcement, which includes issuing citations for vehicles parked on lawns, driveways filled with weeds or garbage piled up outside homes. Billings had “previous dealings” with Robinson over issues at his house and, according to a probable-cause statement, held a grudge against her for that.

Robinson’s daughters said Monday that they were baffled by the violence and heartbroken by the loss. Their mother loved her job, they said, and took pride in making her town look cleaner.

“She always wanted a position where she could make a difference in the community,” said Katie Merrill.

(Courtney Tanner | The Salt Lake Tribune) Katie, left, and Halie Merrill talk about their mother, Jill Robinson, a code-enforcement officer in West Valley City who was killed Aug. 9, 2018.

As Merrill went through Robinson’s house last week, she found a stack of old planners. Her mom had a sticky note placed over every April 21.

“Yay! I did it again!” she wrote for 2018. “Another year!” one celebrated. “Work anniversary!” said a third.

It was Robinson’s reminder to commemorate each year since she got her job with West Valley City on April 21, 2008. When Layne Morris, head of the community preservation department, hired her, he remembered thinking, “Wow, she’s awfully nice.”

“She was almost instantly looked up to,” Morris recounted Monday at West Valley City Hall. He wore a blue ribbon on his button-up shirt.

Robinson came on when the department was created and the city decided to ramp up its code-enforcement efforts to improve property values. Officers, assigned to an area of about 3,000 homes, drive up and down streets, looking for areas where several residences have violations. Most people fix the problem on first notice; about 20 percent require a follow-up, Morris said.

He declined to say what Robinson was talking to Billings about. But the city’s code officers, who are not armed, will now be working in pairs.

“She was someone that I much admired,” Morris said, pulling off his glasses to wipe away tears.

When the Merrills came into City Hall, several employees recognized them and offered condolences. Robinson had pictures of them plastered all over her cubicle.

In her obituary, her four children called her “the hardest worker we ever knew.” They talk about how she donated bone marrow to her brother who had leukemia, how she loved to garden and watch football, how she pretended to be a horse when playing with her grandchildren, how she was “a really loud fisher.”

Katie Merrill talked about how Robinson celebrated Doughnut Day and Dr. Seuss’ birthday and played bingo on Thanksgiving. Halie Merrill reminisced over the decorations Robinson made for every holiday.

The sisters found a box marked “Halloween 2018” sitting in the living room by the band saw, ready to put up for the year. She was probably making some new wooden pumpkins to add to it.