The grieving parents of a college student found fatally shot in her Boston apartment Tuesday focused on the bright side of their daughter's life as police tried to nail down whether the young woman was targeted by her killer or the victim of a random crime.
Rebecca Payne, a 22-year-old senior and Connecticut native studying to become an athletic trainer, was found by a building manager fatally shot in her chest and legs inside her apartment complex in the Mission Hill section of Boston, the Boston Police Department confirmed Wednesday after receiving preliminary autopsy results that confirmed she had died of multiple gunshots.
In a statement released late Wednesday, Nicholas and Virginia Payne described their daughter as a student leader who was loved by the people around her. "We would like to remember Rebecca as someone always smiling, never worrying about this, not worth worrying about," the student's parents said.
The New Milford, Conn., native was loyal to the Yankees despite going to college in Boston surrounded by Red Sox fans. She was also true to "her British roots," her parents said, as a fan of an English football club. "On her bedroom wall hangs the poster for the Liverpool Football Club, with its anthem, 'You'll Never Walk Alone.'"
Police have not yet determined whether Payne's killer or killers knew her or whether the college senior was randomly targeted. "We're hoping that as the hours develop, we'll be able to discover the answer to that," Boston Police Department spokeswoman Elaine Driscoll told ABC News.
One detail that might suggest the crime was not random was the absence of any obvious forced entry into the apartment, which is located in an off-campus building that houses many students from Boston's various colleges and universities. The door of the apartment was open when the woman's body was discovered Tuesday morning around 6:50 a.m., police said.
Some of Payne's neighbors reported to police that they may have heard gunshots during the night between 2 a.m. and 3 a.m., but no one called 911 and authorities have yet to nail down exactly when the shots rang out. "We received numerous witness reports indicating they heard gunshots sometime in the early hours, but they did not contact police," she said.
One witness also reported seeing a black van driving away from the apartment building.
Police processed Payne's apartment, which Driscoll said she shared with at least one roommate, as a crime scene. They also towed Payne's Mini Cooper from the apartment complex parking lot.
In a letter to the university community, Northeastern President Joseph Aoun offered sympathy to Payne's family and friends.
"Those among us who knew her best -- students, faculty and staff -- say Becca was dedicated to her studies, excited about her successful and challenging co-op jobs, and passionate about causes dear to her heart," Auon wrote.
Payne served on the university's dean's council, was involved with a campus ministry and recently worked with children as a summer camp counselor, according to Auon.
"Becca epitomized all that is best about Northeastern University students," he wrote. "Having her taken so suddenly leaves a hole that will never be filled."
On her MySpace page, Payne described herself as a "slightly eccentric/slightly bitter/mostly optimistic" college student whose professional goal was to help injured athletes back to peak physical shape.
"I work with athletes and for some reason, I want to for the rest of my life," she writes. "When my athletes are injured, then I see the passion that most still have for what they do and the enthusiasm to return to play and be the best that they can be."
Payne is the latest in a series of high-profile murders involving female students at major American universities.
Authorities in North Carolina continue to investigate the murder of Ira Yarmolenko, who was found asphyxiated beside her car near a river embankment about 30 minutes from the University of North Carolina-Charlotte campus.
No suspects have been named in the crime, but authorities have said that they are following up with multiple "persons of interest" in the May 5 slaying.
University of Wisconsin-Madison student Brittany Zimmermann, 21, was fatally stabbed inside her off-campus apartment near the university on April 2.
Police have not named a suspect in that murder, which sparked additional controversy after a local newspaper revealed that a 911 dispatcher had not returned a call from Zimmermann's cell phone the day she died in which she failed to respond to the dispatcher's prompts.
Lauren Burk, 18, a student at Auburn University, was found March 4 lying along an Alabama highway. She had been shot and was taken to a hospital, where she died. Her car was found the same night engulfed in flames in an Auburn parking lot.
Courtney Lockhart, 23, is facing kidnapping, attempted rape and capital murder charges in connection with Burk's death. He was arrested March 7. Authorities do not believe there was any prior connection between Lockhart and his alleged victim.
The day after Burk was killed, Eve Carson, a 22-year-old senior and president of the University of North Carolina student body, was found fatally shot near the university's Chapel Hill, N.C., campus.
Police released surveillance stills featuring two men at a drive-through ATM and inside a convenience store where someone had attempted to use Carson's debit card. The images helped lead authorities to Lawrence Alvin Lovette Jr., 17, and Demario James Atwater, 21, both of whom face first-degree murder charges in Carson's death.
Lovette has also been charged with the Jan. 18 slaying of 29-year-old Abhijit Mahato, an engineering graduate student at Duke University who was found fatally shot inside his apartment near the school's Durham, N.C., campus -- just 12 miles from Chapel Hill.
Authorities have not identified any concrete connection between the suspects and Carson.