OAKLAND -- In the weeks before her death, Judy Salamon -- a pet sitter known for her love of animals -- had taken up another cause: making her Maxwell Park neighborhood safer.
In what neighbors describe as a tragic twist, Salamon, 66, was shot dead while driving just blocks from her East Oakland home Wednesday afternoon.
"It's ironic in a sad way," said Jose Dorado, chairman of the Maxwell Park Neighborhood Council. "But that was the reality. She was trying to make our neighborhood safer and got killed."
The day after the daytime killing brought few answers to this neighborhood, where residents continued to speculate whether Salamon was caught in the middle of a gunbattle or died in a robbery that turned deadly.
One neighbor, Carmen Sosa called her death "sobering" for the neighborhood of tidy, narrow streets, nestled in an area bordered by High Street, Brookdale Avenue, 55th Avenue, MacArthur Boulevard and Interstate 580.
It has been known as a sanctuary from violence within East Oakland, residents say.
Salamon, a Canadian who had lived in Oakland for 20 years, had recently met with neighborhood organizers and planned to hand out fliers as part of an initiative to hire private security to patrol the streets, an effort that began more than a year ago as robberies increased and crime crept closer to their homes, Dorado said.
"We in Maxwell Park are almost an island," Dorado said. "It changes within a block. You go in any one of three directions and it changes rapidly."
Salamon was shot and killed at 1:24 p.m. Wednesday in the 2400 block of Fern Street, between Brookdale and Fairfax avenues, police said. She crashed her car into a parked car after the shooting, as police swarmed the neighborhood following numerous 911 calls, authorities said. Oakland police did not release additional information Thursday.
A Thursday night candlelight vigil was planned at 8 p.m. on the 2700 block of Best Avenue, for neighbors to mourn Salamon's death and express outrage about her killing.
Maxwell Park residents often hear gun shots fired in the distance, Sosa said. She also described having her car surrounded by a group of kids when driving on nearby streets, or having people stop her to ask if she had any work for them. But she said that doesn't happen when she's driving in her own neighborhood.
"It's a really wonderful neighborhood," said Kay Willens, who lives on Best Avenue. "People watch out for each other. It's a great place to live. But you don't have to go very far to think it's not so great."
Friend and neighbor Joel Denney said Salamon often watched his cats while he was away. She had a knack, he said, for reading the body language of animals, sometimes napping with pets she pet sat for an hour to calm them. When Denney entered her home with authorities after her death, he found Topaz, a dog Salamon was pet sitting at the time of her death.
Sosa recalled her talking to the dogs she walked.
"She would yap back at them," Sosa said. "They were her little friends."
Standing outside Salamon's home on Thursday morning, Denney said: "I really know what people mean when they say their hearts are heavy."
David DeBolt covers breaking news. Contact David at 510-262-2728. Follow him at Twitter.com/daviddebolt.