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Teen Church Solicitor Killed in N.C.

August 31, 2002

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CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) _ A Seattle teenager who was knocking on doors to offer costume jewelry in exchange for donations to the Unification Church was found dead in an apartment, and a 21-year-old neighbor was charged with murder, police said.

Jin-Joo Byrne’s body was found Thursday in a building next to the one where suspect Eugene DeMorris Evans lives. An autopsy revealed the 18-year-old woman had been strangled.

Neighbors told The Charlotte Observer that Evans was the last person seen talking to the teen before she disappeared Wednesday.

About a half-hour later, a neighbor said, Evans was trying to sell jewelry at the complex. Sherika Brown, 21, said Evans eventually gave her a silvery bracelet, and she gave him a tissue to wipe blood from a small cut above his lip.

``He was trying to sell me a bracelet for $2. He had two black trays full of them,″ Brown said.

Evans, who had been released from jail Tuesday on a misdemeanor charge of breaking and entering earlier in the month, was also charged with kidnapping and robbery in Byrne’s death.

Church officials said Byrne and another young church member had been going door-to-door together, then decided to split up.

Byrne failed to meet her chaperone as planned and was contacted via walkie-talkie, police said. She said she was in an apartment and would meet the chaperone in five minutes, but she never appeared, police said.

Charlotte police spokesman Keith Bridges said the apartment was in a ``rough″ area on the west side of town, ``not the appropriate place to drop a female teen to solicit.″

Pastor Gerhard Wiesinger of the Seattle Unification Church said the teen’s parents, Martyn and Izabela Byrne, were heading to Charlotte with her three siblings.

``They’re shocked and saddened and still in disbelief,″ Wiesinger told the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. ``We were still hoping for a miracle that it isn’t true, but it is true.″

Byrne had graduated from a public alternative high school in June.

``Her church life was pretty all-consuming,″ said Jody Granatir, a Summit School teacher. ``She made this decision go on a mission rather than college. It was one of the crises in her senior year.″

The Rev. Phillip Schanker, vice president of the 50,000-member church founded by the Rev. Sun Myung Moon, said his own daughter was also on the summer volunteer mission, which he said was a ``spiritual refresher″ for about six or a dozen young church members from around the country.

``We are all just horrified and tearful,″ Schanker said.

The teenagers usually travel in pairs, he said, ``but often they will split up if they feel safe,″ Schanker said.

Schanker said he didn’t fault local church leaders. ``They had walkie-talkies and were in constant contact with the group,″ he said.

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