One day last week, Zachary Hunt stayed two hours past his normal shift at the Dollar General near 13th and Oliver because a female co-worker was there by herself and he didn’t think that was a good idea.
So typical of him, his family, friends and employer said.
“He was a really caring, quiet guy,” said Danny Merdian, Hunt’s best friend since their grade school days in Lee’s Summit, Mo. “He went out of his way help others.”
Friday night, about two hours before the 10 p.m. closing and a day or so after he had stayed late, Hunt and Hank Harvey, a 79-year-old customer in the store to buy candy for his grandchildren, were shot to death near the front door. Police arrested Marquis Marshall, 19, on Sunday in connection with the slayings.
Hunt, 22, began working at the store about two years ago, shortly after he moved from Lee’s Summit. He had become a shift manager.
“He was very beloved at our store,” store manager Ty Flanagan said. “That’s not patronizing. That’s the truth.”
When other Dollar General stores in Wichita needed some help to close or fill in for a few hours, he would be there, Flanagan said.
Workers from the other stores have called Flanagan the last few days to express their sorrow. When Flanagan reopened his store Sunday, he said, customers came up to him and said, “Please tell me it wasn’t Zach. He really cared for us.”
“Everyone in our store was blessed by him,” Flanagan added.
Hunt left his hometown Lee’s Summit, just southeast of Kansas City, to move to Wichita with his stepfather, Wayne Herbert, who had taken a job as structural engineer at Spirit AeroSystems. Kelly Herbert, his mother, joined them a few months ago after the family completed building a house in Wichita.
Over the weekend, family members gathered in Wichita to comfort each other, make funeral arrangements for a young man whose life had just begun, and wonder why.
Answers aren’t coming easily. Police aren’t sure about the motive.
Marshall hasn’t cooperated with authorities, and surveillance video isn’t conclusive in explaining whether attempted robbery or something else led to the shootings, police said.
But what Hunt’s family, friends, former teachers and co-workers do know is that he was likable, hard working and well mannered, and he cared about others.
“I’m devastated beyond words,” his mother said. “He was a very caring, gentle young man. He was very strong for our family. He was our rock.”
Hunt learned at a Thanksgiving gathering that he was going to be an uncle for the first time after his sister told the family she was expecting a baby.
“He was very excited about that,” said Lori Overton, an aunt from Blue Springs, Mo. “He was very kind. Unlike most 22-year-olds, he was very well mannered.”
Hunt played the trumpet in the marching band at Lee’s Summit High School and developed a love for music.
Although it’s been four years since Hunt graduated, Brady Finch, the school’s band director, remembered him as a “real nice kid.”
“He was on the introverted side, quiet,” Finch said. “But he was always where he was supposed to be.”
Sometimes that meant coming alongside a friend, such as Merdian, who grew up down the street from Hunt and his family.
“He helped me out during a lot of rough times in my life,” said Merdian, who is a computer engineer in Lee’s Summit. “I had hard time adapting in high school, same as him. That’s probably why we got along so well. Zach was one of those guys who empathized with anyone.”
Merdian often stayed overnight in the Herberts’ home, frequently playing video games with Hunt. They stayed in touch and remained best friends.
“He didn’t have a lot of friends,” Merdian said, “but the friends he had were really close.”
Hunt was still trying to figure out what he wanted to do for a career but noted he enjoyed working for Dollar General, family and friends said.
“He was trying to save up some money to go to college,” Merdian said.
Flanagan was so impressed by Hunt’s work ethic that he visited with him about a future with Dollar General.
“And now ... I was afraid something like this happening with him being in that part of Wichita,” Merdian said. He told me that it was a pretty shady place to drive through to make bank deposits.”
A private funeral will be held in Blue Springs, family members said. The family is in the process of setting up a memorial fund so donations can be sent to help support the Lee’s Summit High School band.