Everybody liked Anita Smith. She was friendly, patient and a good friend. But on May 24, 2000 her short life of 22 years ended in a Wendy’s freezer in downtown Flushing.
Smith, of South Jamaica, was one of five employees killed by a disgruntled former co-worker who had a penchant for robbing fast-food restaurants. Two others were shot but survived.
Smith was working to save up to start classes at York College in the fall. She wanted to major in psychology with the hopes of becoming a social worker and helping autistic children.
Aside from handling the night shift at Wendy’s, Smith assisted at Quality Services for the Autism Community, an Astoria-based group. QSAC officials said that she worked in the group’s Fresh Meadows office three afternoons a week. “She was very patient, caring and enjoyed what she did because she liked to see the children achieve,” a QSAC spokesman said.
Because of that, the organization set up a scholarship fund in her honor for college students pursuing careers in developmental disabilities.
The two gunmen responsible for the massacre, John Taylor and Craig Godineaux, first ordered food from Smith, and Taylor joked with her as he had hired her. They then waited until nearly closing around 11 p.m., when Taylor pulled a gun on the manager and demanded that he order the other employees to the basement for a meeting.
Smith and the others were tied up and bound with duct tape and marched into the freezer. Godineaux later told police that he put a coat on her before she entered.
One of the survivors said that Taylor first shot the manager and Smith screamed, “What happened? What happened?” Then there was another shot and she was silent.
Neither killer admitted shooting the only female employee, but evidence indicated that Taylor shot the manager and Smith before turning over the gun to Godineaux to finish the job.
Godineaux was found to be mentally incompetent and could not be tried for the death penalty. He pleaded guilty and is serving life in prison without the possibility of parole. Taylor, who planned the robbery that netted them $2,400, was found guilty of first-degree murder and sentenced to death, but in 2007 the state Court of Appeals overturned the sentence in a close vote based on a technicality, giving the killer a life sentence without parole.
Naturally still emotional about her daughter’s death 13 years later, Joan Truman-Smith of Rosedale said Anita was her firstborn and had a wonderful attitude about life. “It takes guts to work with autistic children,” Truman-Smith said, “but she could do it.”