CHICAGO -- Sally Katona-King's friends found tragic irony in her death: A woman who dedicated her life to helping the disadvantaged and downtrodden died because someone coveted an expensive cell phone.
Katona-King died Tuesday, a day after a mugger shoved her down a flight of "L" station stairs in Chicago as he fled with an iPhone stolen from another commuter.
"She would be the first person to reach into her purse and give anybody money if they asked," said Katona-King's friend, Bill Masterson. "She was so generous with anybody. She had real empathy for the disadvantaged in our society and she really devoted a lot of her life to that."
A woman on the Fullerton station platform was using her iPhone during rush hour Monday afternoon when a man snatched it and fled, authorities said. As he escaped, the man knocked over Katona-King, who was on her way home from her church receptionist's job.
Katona-King died at Advocate Illinois Masonic Medical Center, where she had been rushed Monday, police spokesman Daryl Baety said. The suspect -- who remains at large -- was last seen heading east.
Officials believe Katona-King suffered a cerebral hemorrhage. An autopsy is scheduled for Wednesday.
"To die over an iPhone? It's senseless," her son, David King, told reporters Tuesday evening in the family's Northwest Side home.
The crime reflects a growing trend involving smart phone thefts in the city. The problem, however, reaches far beyond the Chicago area, authorities said.
"It's a worldwide problem where iPhones are being taken, resold to fences, which are then resold for a higher price," Area 3 Detectives Commander Gary Yamashiroya said. "It's something that police departments across the country are trying to find solutions to."
Katona-King's children said the iPhone owner victimized in the strong-arm robbery came to the hospital to check on her.
"She's a wonderful person," King said. "She felt responsible. It is not her fault."
Katona-King's second husband was himself murdered nearly 40 years ago, the family said.
Police officers returned to the "L" stop Tuesday afternoon, passing out fliers and asking commuters if they had seen anything. Authorities released only a vague physical description of the suspect but said he wore a black jacket with the letters "WS" on the back. Police said they would check area video surveillance for any images of the robber.
Rosemary Onesto, 36, was waiting for the bus on Monday just outside the L station when she heard a woman yell "stop him." Onesto said she then saw a man run out of the station.
"I wish I would have been able to react better," she said Tuesday while standing at the bus stop. "Something like this shouldn't happen."
A lifelong Chicagoan, Katona-King had climbed "L" steps like those thousands of times. She shunned driving her entire life, never understanding why people wanted to sit in traffic when they could be riding public transportation.
She even volunteered with the Chicago Transit Authority, once helping conduct rider surveys.
Katona-King had been on her way home from work at the Evangelical Lutheran Church Metropolitan Chicago Synod, where she was a receptionist in the bishop's office. She had worked there for about a decade, church officials said.
Previously, she worked for 23 years as a cook at a Chicago pizzeria.
She shared her love of cooking at the synod as well, baking cakes and special treats for her co-workers' birthdays, Bishop Wayne Miller said. She'll be remembered as the receptionist who made visitors feel welcome.
"She was just a ray of sunshine in the office for all of us," Miller said. "She was always more interested in what was interesting to you."
Nothing made Katona-King happier, in fact, than cooking comfort food and helping people, her friends and family said. She had employed both talents as a deacon at the First Evangelical Lutheran Church of Logan Square, located right next door to her apartment. The coming weekend, as she did every first Sunday of the month, she planned to serve pancakes and scrambled eggs for as many as 40 homeless people.
She had turned to the church in the mid-1980s after her 2-year-old grandson died in a fire. She found solace there and wanted to help comfort others, her friends and family said.
"She was brought up that way, to help people in need," said her friend, Ray McGuire. "Whether it was Jewish, Protestant, Catholic, black, white, she was always there to help out."
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