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Friends, family, mourn Winona man murdered in Calif. (07/16/2014)
By Amelia Wedemeyer

     Submitted photo

. A memorial service will be held for Isaac Zafft, pictured above, on Friday, July 18.

Isaac Zafft was scheduled to return home to Winona on Tuesday, July 15, after spending several months traveling and working across the country. The 2005 graduate of Winona Senior High School (WSHS) was an avid traveler, but always found himself coming back to Winona. “He always came back home,” said Zafft’s older sister Nicole. “He loved it here no matter [that] he had been all over the country, Canada and Mexico. He always came back here.”

Although Zafft’s family and friends anticipate his return to Winona this weekend, it will unfortunately not be the way they had originally planned. Those who loved Zafft are mourning his death after he was murdered in California earlier this month.

On Monday, July 7, at approximately 1:00 a.m. the Nevada County Sheriff’s Office received a report of gunshots heard at a rural location in Penn Valley, Calif., about an hour northeast of Sacramento. According to a press release from Nevada County Sheriff Keith Royal, the original reporting party who had heard the gunshots called and requested that a deputy check his property. Deputies arrived at the scene and were directed to a greenhouse located behind the main residence where they found Zafft lying on the ground, suffering from apparent gunshot wounds, and he was pronounced dead at the scene. Zafft’s death is currently being investigated as a homicide.

“The shock — it really hasn’t hit me yet,” Nicole said. “He was leaving for Winona this coming Tuesday.”

In the recent months leading up to his death, Zafft had been doing what he loved: pursuing cross-country adventures and catching trains, but he was also considering moving back to Winona to be near family. “He forged his own path,” Nicole remembered fondly. “He traveled all over the country. He lived the life he wanted to live and he was happy.”

Growing up, Zafft was an honor student at WSHS, an Eagle Scout and an avid frisbee golfer, who helped make the cement pads for frisbee golf that are now used at Lake Winona. Family and friends said that Zafft enjoyed drawing, learning about trains and meeting new people from all backgrounds of life. “I feel like he enjoyed the company of friends so genuinely that he set out to find as many as he could,” said Tyler Reinhard, Zafft’s longtime friend. “I was lucky enough to be one of them, and my heart is broken that our time to enjoy his quick wit, contagious humor and jovial spirit for life has been called off so early.”

Another close friend, Joe Kujawa, remembered Zafft’s calm demeanor. “One thing that has stuck with me for years was Isaac’s advice to me during some of our travels together — ‘don’t sweat the small stuff,’” Kujawa said. “I literally always think of him saying that when I start to get worked up about anything. Isaac was the kind of person who made other people feel less afraid.”

Friends of Zafft’s were also regularly treated to drawings by Zafft that documented his travels and thoughts. Shortly after his death, several friends paid tribute to Zafft by uploading pictures of his illustrations to Facebook, including a little robot hiding out in space and a scribble on a sticky note. One friend created comics based on his emails that he sent her while on the road. “The most alive, hilarious, unique person I’ve known was taken by a gun and I still don’t know what happened,” a friend wrote in accompaniment to a series of comics. “Isaac I can’t believe it. I love you so hard. I was going to make so many more comics of your stories. I hope I still can. Everything is dead today.”

Family and friends said that they will remember Zafft as a caring, adventurous, friendly 27-year-old who lived a life filled with humor, originality and kindness to everyone who was lucky enough to meet him.

“One of the crazy quotes of his was about how he liked to think of himself to Winona what Prince was to Minneapolis,” remembered Nicole. “Sure, it was a joke, but he was kind of like that.”

According to Zafft’s family, the Nevada County Sheriff’s Office is also investigating the death of Isaac Zafft as a potential robbery. Zafft had been working at a family-owned marijuana farm in Penn Valley, where the substance was legal for medicinal use.

A celebration of Isaac’s life will be held Friday July 18, 2014, from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. at LaCanne Park in Goodview, 6280 Highway 61. In lieu of flowers, please bring a donation for the local food shelf.  


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