Jitka Vesel spent her final hours on Wednesday night helping fellow volunteers prepare for an event at the Czechoslovak Heritage Museum in Oak Brook.
The 36-year-old Westmont woman, who served as secretary on the museum's board, had no idea that a former boyfriend armed with a .40-caliber handgun was waiting for her outside.
"She was looking forward to this upcoming event on Saturday," said Cary Mentzer, referring to the museum's open house honoring former Chicago Mayor Anton Cermak. "There wasn't a hint of trouble or anything. I don't think she ever expected to see this guy coming down from Canada."
That person, 20-year-old Dmitry Smirnov, bugged Vesel's car before tracking her down and shooting her to death in the museum's parking lot, according to prosecutors.
Mentzer said he found Vesel about 9:30 p.m. lying face down about 10 feet from her car, which had its door open. Just minutes earlier, they were going to leave together, but Mentzer got delayed. He said he heard and saw nothing while he was inside the building.
"If she had asked me to walk her to her car, I would have done it," the Lombard man said.
However, Mentzer says he doesn't believe he could have stopped what happened.
"I think I would have been dead, too," he said. "I don't think this guy would have cared if he took anybody else."
Mentzer said he met Vesel a decade ago while she was the museum's curator. Vesel remained active with the museum as a volunteer even after the paid curator position was eliminated.
Mentzer described Vesel as bright, friendly and "very proud of her Czech heritage," adding that she was involved on so many different levels in the Czech community.
"We're all too stunned to imagine what happened," Mentzer said. "It's a horrible tragedy."