Northeast Times

Port Richmond mother attacked, recovering at home

Bar­bara Zi­math is very lucky she wasn't hurt worse in an at­tack last week, in which two men beat her and stole her purse and phone. Still, the in­cid­ent has rattled her fam­ily, as well as many loc­als who are won­der­ing how something so vi­ol­ent could hap­pen where they live.

Bara­bara Zi­math, a 12-year em­ploy­ee of the Wawa at Rich­mond Street and Al­legheny Av­en­ue, was wait­ing on the 2600 block of Rich­mond Street for the num­ber 15 bus to her 6 a.m. work shift on Wed­nes­day, Aug. 28. At ap­prox­im­ately 5:45 a.m., she was vi­ciously at­tacked. 

Ac­cord­ing to Phil­adelphia Po­lice De­part­ment Pub­lic Af­fairs Of­ficer Jill Rus­sell, Zi­math was ap­proached by two males in a green-colored vehicle. They punched her in the face and kicked her, and stole her cell phone and purse. 

Zi­math was on the phone with her hus­band dur­ing the at­tack, and he man­aged to get Phil­adelphia po­lice to the scene. Zi­math was treated at Temple Uni­versity Hos­pit­al for broken teeth and ab­ra­sions on her head and body. 

The sus­pects, Rus­sell said, are two His­pan­ic males in their early 20s, wear­ing white T-shirts and blue jeans. One is six feet tall and weighs ap­prox­im­ately 170 pounds. The oth­er is five feet, nine inches and weighs ap­prox­im­ately 160 pounds. They are both clean-shaven, she said.

Rus­sell said the in­vest­ig­a­tion is on­go­ing. 

Zi­math’s sis­ter, Tina Ben­nani, spoke to Star via phone on Thursday on be­half of Zi­math. Ben­nani said Zi­math couldn’t speak for her­self on the phone be­cause of the in­jur­ies to her mouth and teeth. Zi­math is cur­rently rest­ing at Ben­nani’s home, Ben­nani said, and will soon vis­it a sur­gic­al dent­ist to de­term­ine if she needs sur­gery on her teeth. Zi­math did lose one tooth in the at­tack.

The Phil­adelphia Daily News re­por­ted Wed­nes­day that Wawa will “provide fin­an­cial sup­port for bills in­curred,” for Zi­math, who doesn’t have health in­sur­ance.

Ben­nani said that Zi­math said that there were two oth­er males in the car in ad­di­tion to the ones who at­tacked her, and that the car was a new­er-mod­el teal hatch­back, per­haps a Honda.  

Ac­cord­ing to Ben­nani, Zi­math was on the phone with her hus­band, who was out of town on busi­ness, while she waited for the bus. 

“She said to her hus­band [when she saw the as­sail­ants ap­proach her], ‘Something bad is go­ing to hap­pen,’” Ben­nani said. “Some­times Barb does walk by her­self, she al­ways felt fine there [wait­ing for the bus.]”

Mar­garet Can­t­well Ne­j­man is the man­ager of the Wawa at which Zi­math is em­ployed. Ne­j­man also spoke to Star by phone Thursday, and said Zi­math is an ex­tremely hard­work­ing, well-liked em­ploy­ee.

“I don’t know of any­body who has a bad word for Bar­bara,” Ne­j­man said. “She’s al­ways cheer­ful, al­ways hope­ful about everything.” 

Ne­j­man said that Zi­math’s at­tack is the first safety is­sue re­gard­ing her Wawa em­ploy­ees that she’s heard of. 

“It’s scary be­cause some people work un­til late at night,” Ne­j­man said. “Most as­so­ci­ates take the bus, and we have a lot of wo­men [em­ploy­ees.] They have to sit and wait for the bus.”

“Now since this happened,” Ne­j­man said, “The em­ploy­ees are wait­ing in­side the Wawa for the bus [or] are talk­ing about car­pool­ing.”

Ben­nani said her sis­ter isn’t the type to carry ex­pens­ive items that would make her a tar­get for a rob­bery or at­tack — this was simply the case of Zi­math be­ing in the wrong place at the wrong time.

All over Port Rich­mond-fo­cused Face­book pages on­line, neigh­bors have ex­pressed a mix of shock, sym­pathy for Zi­math, and an­ger in the wake of the at­tack. Mostly though, neigh­bors are send­ing well-wishes to Zi­math, the moth­er of a 13-year-old son and 12-year-old daugh­ter. 

“She’s do­ing a little bit bet­ter in her spir­its be­cause of what people are say­ing on­line,” Ben­nani said. 

“Tears are pour­ing out of my eyes be­cause of how many people ac­tu­ally care,” Ben­nani con­tin­ued. “It doesn’t seem like that’s the type of world we live in today, but to see how many people care about my sis­ter … it’s an hon­or.” 

Ben­nani said that she’s not sure when Zi­math will go back to work. From now on, though, she’ll be driv­ing Zi­math to work early in the morn­ing, be­fore Ben­nani’s own shift as a school bus driver. She said she’ll also make sure Zi­math has pep­per spray.

As for the safety of Port Rich­mond, Ben­nani said vi­ol­ent at­tacks like the one on her sis­ter can hap­pen any­where.

“It’s a nice neigh­bor­hood, but it’s just the world we live in today. It’s a scary thought. The neigh­bor­hood doesn’t feel un­safe, but when we let our kids go out to play…you nev­er know what’s go­ing to hap­pen,” she said. 

Ne­j­man said po­lice of­ficers that have vis­ited the Wawa to speak to em­ploy­ees sug­gest one simple prac­tice that can help pre­vent at­tacks like the one on Zi­math.

“Stay safe and be in groups,” Ne­j­man said the po­lice told her em­ploy­ees. “[Zi­math] was alone, and it was dark.” 

Be­gin­ning Monday, Ne­j­man said, the Wawa will have avail­able a dona­tion jar for Zi­math’s med­ic­al costs. Neigh­bors had already be­gun of­fer­ing dona­tions at the store on Wed­nes­day, she said. 

Zi­math pos­ted on the “Eyes and Ears of Port Rich­mond” Face­book page Thursday: “Thanks to every­one for your warm wishes and con­cerns. I ap­pre­ci­ate all the sup­port from my com­munity, pat­rons, friends and fam­ily. It means so much to know how much I mean to each and every one of you. I hope they catch the scum­bags and this nev­er hap­pens to any­one any­more. I hope to be back soon, and love each and every one of you. Thank you all again.” ••

You can reach at mjamison@bsmphilly.com.

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