With eight children and the persistent presence of a neighborhood cat, the Linnik household can get pretty busy on a normal summer morning...

Share story

TACOMA — With eight children and the persistent presence of a neighborhood cat, the Linnik household can get pretty busy on a normal summer morning. But the house was strangely quiet Wednesday.

Two girls sat solemnly on the porch, waiting.

An older brother clutched his cellphone in case it rang with news.

Inside the home, their father, Mikhail Linnik, spoke about faith — and the police.

“God works through the police. God controls everything,” he said.

This is how the Linniks have spent much of the past week — awaiting word on the fate of 12-year-old Zina, who police say was abducted from an alley behind the family’s home the night of July 4.

News has been slow in coming, even as police on Wednesday announced that a man under arrest on an unrelated immigration charge is now considered a person of interest in Zina’s disappearance.

The man is a Level 1 sex offender who was convicted of first-degree incest in Pierce County in 1990. The Times is not naming him because he has not been arrested or charged in connection with Zina’s disappearance.

The 42-year-old has denied any involvement in the girl’s disappearance, according to police.

“We don’t have any other people of interest; we are still looking at all leads,” Tacoma police spokesman Mark Fulghum said. But the news the Linniks desperately want to hear is that Zina is alive.

“We’re hopeful and worried at the same time,” said Stan Linnik, her 18-year-old brother.

The Linniks, who moved to Tacoma from Ukraine 10 years ago, have relied on their faith, as well as support from friends and family.

On the night his daughter disappeared, Mikhail Linnik was inside the home when he heard a scream about 9:45 p.m., according to a police report.

When he went to the alley, he saw a gray “box-shaped, windowed van” parked nearby. He told police he saw an Asian male get into the van and drive off. He noted the license plate contained the numbers 677 or 667.

Using the partial plate number, a police computer search turned up a vehicle-prowl case filed by a relative of the person of interest. The relative told police that the man was now driving the vehicle, a van bearing the plate 659 TIG.

According to the search warrant, that license plate was registered to a green Oldsmobile.

When questioned by police on Monday, the man under investigation said he had switched the plates a few days earlier because his license plates had been stolen and he couldn’t afford new ones. The van’s real plate is B17667B, according to the search warrant, and that’s why it turned up in the computer search.

According to state Department of Corrections records, the man is an Asian-Pacific Islander.

In 1990, he was charged with second-degree rape after violently raping a 16-year-old relative, according to Pierce County Superior Court records. He agreed to undergo 60 months of sexual-deviancy counseling in exchange for pleading guilty to the lesser charge of first-degree incest. He completed his program successfully.

The man was arrested Monday because he had not been deported after his release from prison, said Lorie Dankers, spokeswoman for Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Federal law mandates that all noncitizens convicted of felonies be deported to their home country.

Dankers on Wednesday couldn’t explain why the man hadn’t been deported after serving prison time.

He was charged Monday in Pierce County Superior Court with failing to register as a sex offender.

At one point he had registered his address, as required, but he moved several years ago. Police found him living in a house in Parkland, south of Tacoma.

During a search of the man’s home, police confiscated several items, including girls underwear, ski masks, a hammer, tire iron, hair, eight noncommercial DVDs, bedsheets and pillow, a toy gun, hiking shoes and garbage bags. Several of the items are being tested.

Police also searched the van.

On Wednesday, a neighbor described the man as polite. Segunda Harris said the man’s mother would frequently stop and check on him.

“I’d see him almost every day,” Harris said. “He’d come over in the evenings. I never knew he was a sex offender.”

Also on Wednesday, police and FBI agents wrapped up a search of Tiger Mountain State Forest in east King County. Authorities were led to a rural swath of the mountain Tuesday after police received a tip from a hiker who said he had found what appeared to be a freshly dug grave, Fulghum said. The search turned up the carcass of what police believe was a family pet, and they said it had no connection to the girl’s disappearance.

Ten days before she disappeared, Zina went to the Point Defiance Zoo and Aquarium with her younger sister and a teacher. Photos in a family album — the most recent ones the family has of Zina — show the girls smiling in front of dolphins and standing proudly with Zina’s teacher.

As they talked Wednesday about Zina, family members often changed tenses — “she was,” “she is” — reflecting the uncertainty of their situation.

Oksana, a younger sister who shares a bed with Zina, said they like to play basketball and tag together.

“She was the most obedient one. She helped me a lot. She washed the dishes,” her mother, Valentina Linnik, added through a son’s translation.

When asked what help his family could use, Michael Linnik offered one word: prayer.

“We have food. We have everything we need. People should pray in churches, at home,” he said. “We feel bad because we don’t have Zina.”

Roxana Popescu: 206-464-2112 or rpopescu@seattletimes.com