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Unsolved Tragedy

Police look for clues in a year-old murder.

The surveillance video footage is fairly mundane; all it shows is a nondescript man walking in and out of a grocery store late at night.

But moments after the footage was taken, the man, Iraq War veteran Paul Zeller, was shot to death in an upscale Arlington shopping center.

And now, a year after the incident, police are no closer to finding out the identity of Zeller’s killer than they were the fateful summer night when the video was recorded.

"We don’t know who did it," said Arlington County Police spokesperson John Lisle. "No motives have been established. We had promising leads that we pursued but they have not led to an arrest."

Police spokesperson Steve Gomez said that the killing was not part of an attempted robbery and this makes the case even more complex.

"That's one of the toughest parts of the case," he said. "It makes it really difficult to figure out. If it was a robbery it would be a simpler place to start."

The killing, which took place on the evening of June 30, 2006 in the modern Pentagon Row shopping center, has perplexed all who have been investigating it for the past year. The lack of any answers to the question of why this violent crime happened has especially tormented Zeller’s family.

"It’s baffling, it’s frustrating and it’s disheartening," said Lydia Robertson, Zeller’s sister. "It’s hard to believe that a dramatic crime in an area that doesn’t see crime could still be unsolved."

Residents of the Aurora Highlands neighborhood, in which Pentagon Row is located, were alarmed when the killing initially happened.

"Everyone was concerned about it," said Martin King, the president of the Aurora Highlands Civic Association. "Nothing like that had ever happened before."

But for many in the neighborhood, Zeller’s murder is now just a distant memory.

"Since it was such an isolated incident, it’s not possible to get too concerned when you really don’t know what happened," King said, adding that "So far as the [Aurora Highlands] community is concerned at this point, it’s as if the crime never happened."

TO TRY TO HEAT UP this cold case, the police released the surveillance video footage to the public.

"We’re hoping that this video will shake the tree a little bit," Lisle said. "Maybe it will jog someone’s memory."

The two clips of Zeller entering and exiting a Pentagon Row grocery store are very brief, neither more than ten seconds long. They show Zeller, wearing a blue t-shirt and carrying a half-full soda bottle with a backpack strapped across his torso, walking calmly into the store and exiting without any visible merchandise.

Even though Robertson has had a year to come to terms with her brother’s violent death, she said that seeing the video brought back a wave of painful emotions.

"Just watching the video you realize that the tragedy is just below the surface," she said.

The terrible irony of the way Zeller died is almost too much to bear at times, Robertson added. Her brother served a tour of duty in Iraq but came home unharmed and was honorably discharged.

Robertson said she can’t believe that "Someone who served in Iraq [could] die of a gunshot wound," after returning home.

She also said that Zeller, who worked at a car dealership in College Park, Md. and was commuting home via Metro when he was killed, was planning on moving to a new apartment the very next day.

"[Our family doesn’t] know why this happened," Robertson said. "[But] we are choosing to be strong and be supportive."