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Plans of a lifetime abruptly cut short

Quy Trinh, 58, at home in Silver Spring, says of his daughter: "She wanted to save people's lives."
Quy Trinh, 58, at home in Silver Spring, says of his daughter: "She wanted to save people's lives." (Sun photo by Chiaki Kawajiri)
There were so many things Linda Trinh had yet to do over the next five years.

For her parents, the bubbly and devoted 21-year-old planned a visit to the Vatican. For her brother, she envisioned the two of them on a golfing trip in sunny California. For her friends, she resolved to call every month and make time for girls' night out.

After all, the Johns Hopkins University senior was extremely busy with plans to land a research job or scholarship this year. Trinh figured she needed more hands-on experience before accomplishing her next step, earning acceptance into Stanford University's School of Medicine by the summer of 2006.

Her death on Sunday cut short each of the moves Trinh carefully plotted on her Goal Map 2009, a colorful diagram of five year's worth of personal and professional dreams. Some were uplifting and some were lofty, but anyone who knew Trinh also knew it was all attainable for someone who had already completed a similar set of ambitions in 2003.

As charted, Trinh's graduation from Hopkins this May would open the door to what was supposed to be the next exciting phase in her life.

"All those plans were cut short here," Quang Trinh said tearfully yesterday, slamming his hand down on the diagram where his younger sister's plans, all penned in pink, began. "She can't do those things anymore."

"We are devastated."

The Trinh family mourned yesterday, still reeling after learning that Linda was found dead in her North Charles Street apartment. Still numb to the thought that someone had killed her. Still in shock that so much promise would go unfulfilled.

Baltimore homicide detectives said yesterday that they're searching for Linda's killer. Meanwhile, a steady stream of aunts, uncles and cousins drifted in and out of the family's Silver Spring home to remember and grieve. At school, her friends and co-workers tried to make sense of her death.

But none of it made sense.

How could it when everybody was so sure that Linda was going to do things, big things, in life?

She already had a good head start, said her father, Quy, 58, a military officer who was shipped off to prison camp at the end of the Vietnam War in 1975.

In a tale similar to other Vietnamese immigrants, it would take eight years, an escape by boat and a year of living in Malaysia and the Philippines before Quy would be able to move his family in 1983 to Maryland where his wife, Hoan, had family. They settled in what would later become a Vietnamese enclave in Silver Spring in May 1983 with their only son, Quang, now 25. Linda was born several months later.

Throughout her youth, Linda's drive and endless energy were evident, her family and friends said.

Trinh lettered in gymnastics and volleyball at Montgomery County's Springbrook High School, according to Principal Michael Durso.

She was also involved in the Latin and French clubs and tutored other students. "I'm looking at her transcript right now and I don't see a single 'B' on it," Durso said.

"If you were told you could order a daughter, you would order someone just like Linda. I can't think of a single flaw," he said.

There was almost nothing Linda didn't accomplish on her Goal Map 2003.

Straight A's, check.

Junior or Senior Princess, check on both.

Get accepted to the Johns Hopkins University, check.

Carefully choose a career before college, check. Linda wanted to be a doctor.

The only thing Linda didn't quite nail was learning how to cook Vietnamese cuisine. But she could make a mean plate of pasta.

As with most families seeing their only daughter off to college, the Trinhs worried about Linda living alone in Baltimore.

"To let a young girl leave the home was hard," said her uncle, Toang Thien Ngo, speaking in Vietnamese. "But she studied hard and was so smart. We had to believe she would be OK."

Over the next four years, the Trinh clan would drive to Baltimore every weekend, usually Sundays, to visit Linda. They would bring her favorites - fried rice, fried noodles and sometimes crabs.

The Trinhs had nothing to fear, it seemed. Linda excelled at Hopkins and quickly made friends.

She played volleyball until her junior year, when she quit the varsity squad to concentrate more on academics. At the time, Trinh told the student newspaper, the Johns Hopkins News-Letter, that her biomedical engineering classes didn't leave time for sports.

That year, staying true to her focus, Linda was one of 16 students awarded a Vredenburg Scholarship. The grant, which would cover housing and travel, allowed her to visit her parents' homeland for six weeks with them. From July to August, Linda spent time in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City studying breast cancer detection and AIDS-related dementia.

She came home with a new goal, Quy said.

"She didn't want to be a doctor anymore," Quy said. "She said she didn't want to just treat one person or a couple thousand people. She wanted to help thousands. She wanted to save people's lives. She wanted to be a researcher and find a cure for cancer or other diseases."

True to her word, Linda began pursuing that goal.

This past summer, Linda began research on a project about adult stem cells for assistant professor Hai-Quan Mao. She struggled with some of the nuances in the beginning but "she was happy and she was making progress," Mao said.

Graduate student Greg Christopherson, who oversaw some aspects of Linda's research, said he believed that she might have been able to eventually publish her work, a rarity for undergraduate students.

Things were progressing just as Linda had planned. She was finding time not just for school, but also family and friends.

In the last week before her death, Linda visited her family Jan. 15. She had just spent two weeks home for Christmas, but had returned to Hopkins a week early to continue her research.

At home, Linda went to a cousin's birthday dinner. The next morning, she stayed just long enough to spend time with an aunt visiting from Vietnam before heading back to school.

Friends and family said while it might have sounded like Linda was the stereotypical Asian who was all work and no play, Linda was far from one-dimensional. She was the former president of Alpha Phi, a sorority on campus. She enjoyed having a good time, too, Christopherson said.

"Tuesday is the day we're dragging our friends away from their books," she told him.

So on Jan. 18, Linda and Christopherson and four other friends went to PowerPlant Live! for College Student Night. Linda forced a shy engineering student to come and dragged him onto the dance floor, Christopherson said.

"At first, he was uncomfortable because it's not the type of thing engineering students do, but she forced him to have a good time," he said.

Linda rarely drank and didn't that night because she often turned bright red after consuming alcohol, Christopherson said, recalling, "She'd put her hands on her face and ask, 'Are my cheeks blushing?'"

After the club closed around 2 a.m., the group went back to Charles Village where they watched the comedy Starsky & Hutch until 4:30 a.m. The shy undergraduate had class at 9 a.m. but "I don't think he minded because of Linda," Christopherson said. "She could have that type of effect on people."

It was the last time Christopherson saw Linda.

Last Thursday, she e-mailed her parents to explain why she had not called for days - unusual since they talked almost every day. In her e-mail, Linda said she had lost her cellular phone's battery charger. She asked if they could bring her a new one the following weekend.

"We were worried," Hoan Trinh, her mother, said. "'Don't worry,' she said. 'Everything is fine.' And we didn't worry anymore."

The Trinhs never made it to Hopkins on Sunday. They dug out of the weekend snowstorm to attend church Sunday, but when they got home, 50-year-old Hoan said she did not feel well.

Quy decided to visit his daughter Monday instead, with the charger. He and his son spent the early evening playing Ping-Pong in the basement.

Everything was a blur after that. First came the call from the police just after 7 p.m. Sunday. Then, a visit from homicide detectives. Hoan screamed in grief. The family wept. Family and friends have trickled in and out since then.

Except this time, instead of talking about future plans and goals, the Trinhs are quietly discussing how Linda will be buried this weekend.

"Our whole family feels like life has stopped," Quy said. "How on earth could this happen? My God, what has happened?"

Funeral services for Linda Trinh will be held at 9:30 a.m. Saturday at Our Lady of Vietnam Roman Catholic Church, 11814 New Hampshire Ave. in Silver Spring. Relatives and friends may gather at Hines-Rinaldi Funeral Home, 11800 New Hampshire Ave., tomorrow and Friday from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. and 7 p.m. to 9 p.m.

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