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Mount Airy ‘reeling’ after mother of three and high school lacrosse player killed in shooting

On a normal day, Noah Homayouni might’ve been in class anticipating another day of practice on the lacrosse field. Heather Zujkowski, mother of three, might’ve been putting in hours volunteering for her community. Instead, they were both following the governor’s stay-at-home order, next door to each other, when — according to police — Zujkowski’s estranged husband opened fire in front of their Mount Airy homes, killing them both.

Zujkowski’s children — ages 4, 6 and 11 — were in the residence on Bennett Branch Road at the time their mother was killed. She was 36.

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Homayouni, 18, was a senior at South Carroll High School who played on the lacrosse team and planned to continue at the college level.

The two were shot by Joseph Zujkowski of Gaithersburg with a rifle for unknown reasons, police say. Heather was married to Joseph, but the two were separated. A protective order filed against Joseph Zujkowski expired in January.

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Homayouni lived next door to Heather Zujkowski and investigators believe he was outside at the time Joseph Zujkowski opened fire on Heather Zujkowski. Joseph Zujkowski then opened fire on Homayouni as well.

The Town of Mount Airy released a statement about the victims Friday morning.

“Today we are left reeling over the events that transpired yesterday resulting in a tragic loss throughout our entire community,” the statement read. “Our prayers and sincerest condolences go out to the Zujkowski and Homayouni families who lost their precious loved ones. We will honor those lives lost by cherishing our memories and carrying them in our hearts. As we navigate through these uncertain times, let us count our blessings and hold our loved ones dear.”

Mount Airy Mayor Patrick Rockinberg offered words of mourning in an interview. “Horribly tragic situation to have a young mother with three children and then a South Carroll High School student, Noah. It’s terrible, the kids are now orphaned,” he said.

The loss of two residents happened soon after the loss of several others; five residents of Pleasant View Nursing Home, about a mile away from the site of the shooting, died of the coronavirus. County officials have said 77 residents and 24 staff members have tested positive for the COVID-19 disease caused by the coronavirus.

“The community’s heartbroken,” Rockinberg said. “It’s sad and we did expect it to hit our neighborhood, we knew we wouldn’t be immune to it, but we didn’t expect it to hit that hard. We’re deeply saddened and we just pray for everybody up there.”

According to Rockinberg, Zujkowski worked closely with the town.

“Heather was working with the town and Councilwoman Pam Reed on an all-inclusive playground, so we all know her very well,” he said. “Heather was very sweet and kind. You could see the love she had for her children.”

Reed said in an interview that Zujkowski approached the town a few years ago advocating for a place in Mount Airy for one of her sons, who is disabled, could play.

“There isn’t anything negative anyone could say about her, she’s very sweet,” Reed said. “She’s always willing to volunteer her time, whatever it took related to this project, whether it was hours of grant writing, hours of meetings sort of planning the playground. She was a very generous person.”

The Carroll County Sheriff’s Office is still working to identify a motive for the shooting, Sheriff Jim DeWees said Friday.

“We are still trying to develop a motive for the shooting, particularly why he shot Noah Homayouni. We’ve seized several cellphones in hopes they will give us some indication to what may have gone tragically wrong,” he said. "It will take some time to download and recover the data on those devices. We know upward of 30 rounds were shot from a rifle. Multiple rounds were located in parked cars at Noah Homayouni’s house. It appears that he may have been trying to get into his house when he was struck. It looks like he ran to a neighbor’s property after being struck then collapsed.

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“This is very tragic and our hearts are broken for the Homayouni and Zujkowski families. We will do everything we can to find out why this happened and what led up to this horrible event.”

Police tracked Joseph Zujkowski to what they believe is his residence in Montgomery County, near Gaithersburg. Montgomery County police went to that home, where the suspect shot himself after a brief standoff with police, DeWees said Thursday.

South Carroll High School posted a message Friday afternoon on the school’s official Twitter account about their loss.

“Together, we grieve the loss of our fellow Cavalier. Although our circumstances prevent us from being together, know that you are not alone. We are here for you,” the post said.

A teammate of Homayouni described him as being all about lacrosse.

"Noah, he was probably the most hard-working kid I’ve ever met in my whole life,” said South Carroll senior Dylan O’Neill, a lacrosse teammate. “All he did all day was lacrosse. Lifting [weights] outside the school to get better every day. He was very determined to be the best he could.”

A GoFundMe crowdfunding campaign has been set up for Homayouni’s memorial with a $15,000 goal. The GoFundMe raised over $25,000 within the first six hours it was posted.

“The GoFundMe exploded in a short time, which is good. There’s a couple counseling services offering services and information going out to community members,” said Tim Novotny, South Carroll’s athletic director. “Obviously what the school system would normally do in a situation like this is provide grief counseling and we’re still working on that. I know the Young Life chapter in Mount Airy did a Zoom call with a bunch of students to do some prayers and stuff ... there’s a lot of community support in place, virtually, which is pretty much all anybody can do right now.”

The GoFundMe described Homayouni as a “student-athlete with a bright future signed to play collegiate lacrosse at Howard Community College this fall.”

South Carroll's Noah Homayouni, left, tries to stick check Westminster's Chase Buckwalter during a boys lacrosse game at Westminster High School on Thursday, April 25.
South Carroll's Noah Homayouni, left, tries to stick check Westminster's Chase Buckwalter during a boys lacrosse game at Westminster High School on Thursday, April 25.(Brian Krista / Carroll County Times)

Homayouni played lacrosse last spring as an attackman, and finished the season with 25 goals and 21 assists. The Cavaliers went 9-7, 3-3 in the Carroll County Athletic League.

He posted the third most goals on the team, and his assists were the second highest among the Cavaliers. Homayouni was South Carroll’s returning leader in points for 2020.

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According to Rockinberg, there aren’t plans to publicly honor the victims at this time as everyone is still in shock and it’s all “pretty fresh,” as well as Gov. Larry Hogan’s stay-at-home order, which aims to mitigate the spread of the coronavirus and prevents people from congregating.

According to Novotny, options are being discussed for ways to honor Homayouni despite the restrictions relating to COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus.

“We have been talking, the powers that be discussed a couple thoughts this morning and a little bit last night,” Novotny said. “We reached out to some families that came up with ideas, and we were listening to the press conference to see what they had to say and what guidelines were in place so we could try to come up with a way we can do something that would not interfere with the governor’s directive. We’re brainstorming those things now … we haven’t reached out the the family yet, but once we do and get their blessing, we will figure something out.”

Reed said that a way to honor Zujkowski could be completing the playground she pushed for before her death.

“Her main focus was seeing this playground through. So, even more so now, we need to make sure that it happens. We obviously need to continue our fundraising and our grant efforts, if not for anything, in honor of Heather and how much she cared about the project.”

Carroll County Times reporters Pat Stoetzer and Megan Woodward contributed to this article.

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