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Vigil planned tonight for slain store manager

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He may have lived in West Jordan, but his heart belonged to Glendale, the west side community grappling with a spate of deadly crimes.

But Glendale's grit didn't deter Wally Knapton, who rallied neighbors and co-workers to take a stand against criminals — such as "Night Out Against Crime" parties in the parking lot of the store he managed.

It was in that store — Family Dollar on Glendale Drive in the heart of the community — that Knapton was shot to death during a robbery Wednesday night.

"He was quite the guy to organize these parties against crime," said Glendale Community Council Chairman Randy Sorensen. "And it's so ironic. Crime took him out."

The community is returning Wally's dedication to the area with a vigil planned in his honor at 6 p.m. tonight in the store's parking lot at 1145 S. Glendale Dr. (1350 West).

Organized by his employees, the vigil will include flowers and lighted candles and appearances by Salt Lake Police Chief Chris Burbank, Salt Lake City Councilman Van Turner, church leaders, Sorensen and others.

Police have yet to catch the gunmen and their getaway driver, who witnesses said sped off in a smaller four-door gold vehicle with a Ski Utah license plate. Video surveillance of the robbery has been released to the media and is generating tips, but police said Friday they were still working to identify the trio.

"Our detectives have been talking to anybody and everybody who may have information," said Salt Lake police detective Jeff Bedard.

In the meantime, a community and corporate family is in mourning for the slain father who leaders say put his heart and soul into running the business.

"He turned that store around," Turner said. "The store was kind of dumpy before he got there — he changed it."

Turner, who runs a nearby restaurant, said he'd see "Wally" on a daily basis.

"He'd come over most every day to get lunch and we all shopped over there. The Family Dollar employees come over to my restaurant all the time — they were here today (Friday)."

Wally and the community set up a Santa Shack inside the business where children could come with their parents to get their pictures taken for the holidays. Wally, Sorensen said, donated the candy canes that were passed out.

"I knew him very well," Sorensen said.

Aside from the personal loss that comes with Knapton's death, the slaying has rattled an already edgy community that — while struggling to overcome its seedy perceptions — has already dealt with the very real shooting deaths of a hair salon owner, a truck stop security guard and a man gunned down in his driveway.

"People are pretty shook up and they have every right to be," Sorensen said, adding that having the gunmen in both the hair salon shooting and Knapton's death on the loose confounds the anxiety.

"If the police could solve them — things are going to be easier if you know the suspect has been caught and they are behind bars. If it goes unsolved, it makes it that much harder."

While the violent crimes are unsettling, Sorensen said he's lived in the area for 34 years and has never felt unsafe.

"We've been starting to rebuild our community out here," he said. "There's a bunch of new homes being built ... but I don't think people realize that. The persona is that when people find out you live in Glendale, they go, 'Oooh, gee, you live out there.'"

Like any other big city, Turner said Glendale has its share of car prowls, thefts and burglaries, but he says they are not as frequent as some people believe and are on the decrease. He touts an increased police presence in the area, better response times to high priority crimes and an active mobile watch program.

Still he admits the incidents of violent crime are disturbing.

"These robberies and shootings, particularly in the center of Glendale are a little bit unnerving. That is the part the media is grabbing onto as well they should ... but anyone can come in with a gun and rob any business in Salt Lake City."

Employees did what they could at the store to deter crime — but it was victimized frequently, Turner said. There had been break-ins and previous robberies, despite adding new lighting around the business for evening hours.

"All these people are good people in the neighborhood, that is what is real heartbreaking."

E-mail: amyjoi@desnews.com