When Louise Sollowin died, she took a library's worth of neighborhood knowledge with her.
The 93-year-old was a prominent figure in Omaha's Little Italy community. For 50 years, she fired up the oven at Orsi's Italian Bakery. She attended Mass at St. Frances Cabrini Catholic Church. She sewed while watching gaggles of neighborhood children play with her own.
“She was a very lovely lady,” longtime resident Nancy Calinger, 71, said. “She was a pillar in our neighborhood and a library, as well, because of her history.”
Sollowin was beaten and raped Sunday in her bed by an intruder. He entered her home at 1921 S. 10th St. through an unlocked door. She died Wednesday at the Nebraska Medical Center.
“Her body was so completely broken up,” Joe Sollowin III, Louise's son, said Thursday.
He said he had figured that his mother would live forever because she was one of the few people in the family who never touched alcohol or cigarettes. She worked at the bakery until about 10 years ago, when her weakening eyesight forced her to retire.
“My mother was a saint,” Sollowin said. “This is beyond words. ... It's horrendous.”
The atrocity has left people in the community struggling with questions: How could something like this happen? Why Sollowin? And could it happen again?
“To kill her the way that man did,” Calinger said, her voice cracking. “Damn him.”
Sollowin lived in a small house on 10th Street, just south of downtown. Rows of old houses, some decaying with rickety porches and dusty front windows, line the streets.
Intermingled with the old community and its humble homes are signs of new development, including white town homes near Orsi's and a new apartment complex on 10th Street.
But area residents said the neighborhood has been relatively free of crime.
“I would say that the area is very safe for elderly, for women, for really anybody,” said Arnie Breslow, president of the Old Market South Neighborhood Association. “It's as strong a neighborhood as any in the city.”
The neighborhood is on the fringes of Omaha's Little Italy community, which includes storied landmarks Santa Lucia Hall and Orsi's bakery and pizzeria — where Sollowin worked and chatted in Italian with her sister, Frances Orsi.
Orsi's husband, Claudio, ran the bakery for decades. Sollowin's husband, Joe, did the books.
The neighborhood has long had a connection to tourism because it links the Old Market with the Henry Doorly Zoo & Aquarium.
One of Sollowin's neighbors said that since the slaying, she has been afraid to open her front door. She and her husband went to Grace University and moved into the house five years ago. Now they have young children.
“I am scared for the safety of this family,” she said, asking that her name not be used.
“It's brutal what happened to her. It's so gross that I could not even believe it at first.”
Another neighbor, who walks past Sollowin's house every morning, said the area is considered so safe that people rarely lock their doors. She raised her children in the same house she was raised in.
“We usually leave things unlocked,” said Shirley, who asked that only her first name be used. “I've always felt safe here. This put a damper on it. Everyone is really shaken.”
Alfie Cascio is the third-generation owner of Cascio's Steakhouse on South 10th Street.
Cascio, who has lived in the area since he was 14, said the neighborhood is usually quiet and safe, that there are never break-ins or shootings.
“The neighbors are (now) on edge and more on watch,” Cascio said. “We are a tight-knit area. These are things that happen less than a tenth of a percent of the time. But it can ruin an area. It makes me sick.”
The community has become more cautious, locking its doors and talking more with neighbors.
Charles Aliano, a lifetime resident, said it is unlike anything he has ever seen.
“I think it's just plain shock,” he said. “It makes you want to look around, look over your shoulder, see if something is not right, see if people in the neighborhood are acting odd.
“For 93 years old, it is just unspeakable the way she went out.”
World-Herald staff writer Maggie O'Brien contributed to this report.