Rowe-Clark Math and Science Academy students grapple with death of teacher Samantha Zapata

There were gestures of support and love as students who attend Rowe-Clark Math and Science Academy in Chicago's Humboldt Park neighborhood arrived for the first day of class this morning only to learn of the death of beloved educator Samantha Zapata, 26.

Zapata, 26, was an alumni coordinator and senior advisor at the charter school, located in the 3600-block of West Chicago Avenue in Chicago's Humboldt Park neighborhood.

The Cook County Medical Examiner ruled Zapata's death a homicide after she was shot in the back in her home in the 8300-block of South Archer Avenue in Willow Springs on Saturday morning. Authorities said her husband, 35-year-old Luis Zapata, died of a gunshot wound to the chest. His death has been ruled a suicide.

"I already lost my uncle this year, so it's like two sudden deaths," said Diamond Walker, a student at the academy. "I didn't know how to take it."

Noble Network Charter School officials, who operate the Rowe-Clark Math and Science Academy, released a statement about Zapata, which reads in part:

"She was committed to our students, alumni and our school. Our prayers are with her family and friends. During this time of tragedy, it's important that we stick together and support one another."

Crisis counselors attended to the grief-stricken students at the school. Terese Merkson tried to console her own daughter, who was close to the slain educator.

"I prayed with her for her comfort and strength that God would put his arms around her and her classmates and the entire Rowe-Clark school," Merkson said.

School officials said plans are in the works for a memorial in the next few days.
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