ST. PETERSBURG — Tamika Mack's family has spent the past few months struggling with her absence.
Holidays have been the hardest.
On Easter morning, the 24-year-old was killed when two armed men broke into her friend's home and started shooting. The young mother of two boys was shot several times and died at the scene.
This past week the U.S. Marshal's Office tracked down a St. Petersburg man wanted in connection with Mack's death. John Curry, 22, was arrested on a first-degree murder charge in Blountstown, a tiny city in the Panhandle.
Mack's relatives said the news brought some comfort but doesn't erase the pain.
"No one understands the pain a family goes through when something so senseless is done," said Cynthia Johnson, Mack's aunt.
But Lorraine Yaslowitz does. And when the slain police officer's widow learned of Mack's death, she wanted to help.
Donations poured in after St. Petersburg police Officer Jeffrey Yaslowitz was killed by an armed fugitive hiding in an attic in January 2011.
Within days, Lorraine Yaslowitz was assured that her family's financial future was secure. College for the couple's three children was paid for. Fundraisers were organized.
"I thought, 'My gosh, there are so many people out there going through the same loss, and they are not getting what they need.' " Lorraine Yaslowitz said.
On the way to the cemetery to bury her husband, Lorraine Yaslowitz had an idea. She wanted to start a foundation for families like hers.
Partners for Life seeks to support people who have lost someone through violence. The foundation, still in its infancy, is waiting for approval of its status as a 501c3.
But Lorraine Yaslowitz and fellow foundation members haven't let that keep them from their mission.
When they read the news of Mack's death in April, they decided her family would be one of the first ones helped.
"It just made sense. Two young kids, a young mom," said Chris Lauber, a founding member of the foundation and race director of the annual Partners for Life Police Appreciation Run. "There have been other cases that we've considered, but the situation with Tamika Mack was just obvious."
Lauber recently presented Mack's family with a $5,000 check to start an education fund for Mack's sons, 4-year-old Joshua and 6-year-old Markese.
"It means a lot to us," said Ray Tampa, Mack's uncle. "I know education is the key to success. And any time you have an opportunity to assist kids and be relieved of the financial burden of getting an education, it's a great help."
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The night before she died, Mack, who went by the nickname "Mika," prepared to celebrate the holiday with her family.
She gathered chocolate bunnies for her sons' Easter baskets. She laid out the clothes they'd wear to church the next day. Then she left for an overnight shift at a nursing home.
On her way back to the home she shared with her parents, she stopped by her male friend Tore V. Holley's home at 4034 11th Ave. S.
That morning, police said, two men burst into the home and started shooting. And although police said they found evidence that drugs may have been used or sold at the home, they do not believe Mack had anything to do with it.
The young woman did not have a criminal record and was a certified nurse's aide.
"We believe she was a totally innocent person. She was just visiting," said police spokesman Mike Puetz. "This poor girl didn't deserve this. … Based on the circumstances, this was a totally cold-blooded murder."
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Johnson, Mack's aunt, said the boys have become a lifeline for the family. Mack's parents, Jan and Greg, are still too distraught to talk about the loss. They are caring for their grandchildren.
"They definitely understand that mommy is in heaven," Johnson said. "We're trying to make their lives as normal as possible."
Lorraine Yaslowitz, a kindergarten teacher, said she wanted to make sure an affordable education was part of their future.
The fund sets up an expectation for the boys, she said, to help motivate them in the long run.
"I felt very, very touched that we could do something," she said. "Me being an educator, it meant even more to me, that these two little boys will have a foundation. And hopefully it will grow."
Kameel Stanley can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 893-8643.