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.” ••