HOLIDAY — Kellie Zorka was inspired to pursue a different sort of life after the birth of her first child, a frisky toddler whom she named Donovan.
Zorka, 27, had recently become a certified nursing assistant and planned to start working in a nursing home. She had given up the nightlife and doted on the year-old boy she playfully dubbed "Monkeyface," family members and friends say.
But the promise of a new job and brighter future may have been cut short by a past she had been trying so hard to avoid.
Zorka died early Sunday from severe brain injuries she suffered during a shooting in the parking lot of a west Pasco strip club on Feb. 24. She was taken off a respirator at Bayfront Medical Center in St. Petersburg after being in a coma for the past week, according to the Pasco County Sheriff's Office.
"This is so senseless," said Mindy Adams, one of Zorka's aunts from Ohio. "This would have been the last thought on anyone's mind."
Bryan Heater, 27, of New Port Richey was arrested Tuesday in connection with the shooting. He remains in the Land O'Lakes Jail in Pasco County on three counts of attempted murder. However, the Pasco-Pinellas State Attorney's Office now considers the case a homicide and is trying to determine what charges Heater might face.
Authorities said the trouble started in the parking lot of Diamonds Gentleman's Club at 3935 Grand Blvd., near closing time on Feb. 24. Heater and at least one other person were allegedly arguing with others in the crowd, and the confrontation soon led to gunfire.
Zorka, who formerly worked at the club, was shot in the head and flown to Bayfront. Anthony Monti, 32, of New Port Richey, was shot in the left arm and treated at a local hospital. Alexander Wilson, a bouncer at the club, was fired at, but not hit, according to the Sheriff's Office.
As Zorka clung to life in the hospital, family members from Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Ohio and North Carolina flew into town to keep vigil over a buoyant woman who was seemingly on the cusp of a turnaround. The prognosis seemed bleak, but some still held out hope that Zorka — one of six siblings, the youngest of two girls — could summon the strength for one last turnabout.
It wasn't meant to be.
"She was just getting her life turned around," her uncle, Floyd Adams, said Sunday while standing in the driveway of the home she shared in Holiday with her mother and stepfather. "She wanted to make a better life for her son. The boy was her pride and joy."
Just over Adams' shoulder, in the garage, Donovan blissfully pushed around a plastic wagon. Mindy Adams called Donovan the spitting image of his mother, saying "he's vibrant as well. He's got a lot of spunk."
Many of Zorka's friends remembered her in much the same way, telling stories of someone who had been the life of the party but quickly gave up clubs and parties to take care of her newborn son. The trip to Diamonds had been the first time Zorka had gone out in quite a while, they said.
"Having her son, it seemed like it reeled her in a little bit," said Mike McGovern, one of her friends. "She hadn't been going out at all."
Another friend, Brandy Stecht, said Zorka remained a "spitfire" and would not back down in a fight. The men could get too aggressive in those clubs, Stecht said, and even the women would cause their share of problems.
"We quit going there," Stecht said. "I stayed clear of that place. I wouldn't even look at it as I drove past there."
Zorka also tried to keep facing forward: She was set to start a new job at the nursing home on Tuesday. On her private MySpace.com profile, last updated on Feb. 20, Zorka listed her mood as "determined."
"It's just heart-wrenching," said Mindy Adams, who said the family was struggling to come up with the money for a funeral. "There's no excuse good enough to do this to any human being."
Joel Anderson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (352) 754-6120.