BLOOMINGTON — Three years after Pam Zimmerman's death, friends and family members struggle with an unfillable void as they prepare for a trial against her former husband, accused of killing her over financial disagreements.
"She left a huge hole in the family," said Zimmerman's sister, Diane Gifford of Decatur.
On Nov. 4, 2014, after her fiance was unable to reach her, police and friends found Zimmerman, 53, behind the reception desk of her east-side Bloomington office. She had been shot multiple times.
Eight months later, Kirk Zimmerman, now 59, was charged with first-degree murder. The couple, whose three children then were in high school, had divorced in 2012 after 20 years of marriage.
Gifford remembers her sister, a Maroa-Forsyth High School graduate, as a dedicated mother who used her skills as an accountant to help care for the couple's three children.
"She always wanted to raise her kids and looked forward to being a grandma. To miss out on being a grandma — that's huge," Gifford said.
Pam Zimmerman's broad base of friendships and professional connections was evident after her death, said Gifford, as people from across the country expressed their condolences.
Relatives and friends were aware of the animosity between the Zimmermans that had continued after their divorce.
The two went back to court over unpaid child support payments Pam Zimmerman had submitted. Shortly before her death, she mailed an envelope to Kirk Zimmerman, demanding about $4,000 in child-related expenses and threatening a return to court if the debt was not paid.
The dispute over money and the possibility of more court appearances is the basis of the state's theory as to why Kirk Zimmerman allegedly killed his ex-wife.
Gifford was in St. Louis helping care for an aunt when she was called about her sister's death.
"I could swear it took me 12 hours to get home," she recalled.
Cousin Vicki Sartori of St. Louis also feels the loss.
"We just sat and talked about our family, her kids. That's what I miss — our time together. I still wait for her to call me," Sartori said.
Family members are determined to ensure justice is achieved in their sister's case.
Wearing large buttons depicting a smiling image of their deceased sister, Gifford and her brothers Jim Smith of Decatur and Larry Alexander of Naperville attend every McLean County Court proceeding. They share developments with their other sister, Eileen Milligan of Decatur.
"We never thought we would be in this position," Gifford said of the family's involvement with the criminal justice system.
Smith, as administrator of Pam Zimmerman's estate, pursued the almost $4,000 owed in child support at the time of his sister's death.
Kirk Zimmerman paid the debt just ahead of a March 2015 hearing where indirect civil contempt charges were possible against him.
A trial date in the murder case has not yet been set. Zimmerman was ordered to home confinement as part of his release on $200,000 bond in November 2015.