Vinessa Lozano was just trying to be nice when she befriended a male co-worker whom many considered a social outcast.

But when the outgoing 18-year-old rejected the man's romantic advances, he turned violent, police say, ambushing her and stabbing her more than 30 times Friday night outside of their Pizza Ranch workplace in Montevideo, in southwestern Minnesota. The first officer at the scene found him standing over the fatally wounded Lozano, holding the knife.

It was like a "high school crush gone bad," Lozano's mother, Robin Savoy, said, in a phone interview on Saturday.

When Darek Nelson, 24, began working at Pizza Ranch about a year ago, he didn't have many friends and was perceived as "a little different," Savoy said. Her daughter, being the "loving and caring person" she was, decided to make friends with him.

"She made him feel like he was important," Savoy said.

Unfortunately, Nelson misinterpreted Lozano's friendliness as something more and became obsessed with her, Savoy said. Lozano had told him that they were just friends.

His gestures seemed harmless enough, Savoy said. He would give her cigarettes when she forgot hers, and do her extra chores at work.

On Friday night, Lozano called her mother while on a smoke break at work and gave no indication that anything was wrong, Savoy said.

Forty-five minutes later, police got a call.

Lozano had been walking to her car in the parking lot of the restaurant, which is on Hwy. 7, after closing time when she was attacked, police said. They found her lying on the ground and Nelson standing over her with a knife, Montevideo Police Chief Adam Christopher said. The first officer on the scene drew her gun and ordered Nelson to put down the knife, which he did, police said. He was arrested and taken to the Yellow Medicine County jail.

Lozano was taken to the Chippewa County-Montevideo Hospital, where she died, Christopher said.

State records show Nelson had no convictions or arrests in his past.

On the Montevideo Police Department's Facebook page, Montevideo Mayor Debra Fader called Lozano's death "a senseless crime."

"Our hearts are heavy for this sad act," Fader wrote. "May the families be blessed with wisdom and God's healing mercy at this time. ... Our city of Montevideo is in mourning."

About her daughter's death, Savoy said, "There's no words."

Lozano had an 18-month-old son and was engaged to be married, Savoy said. She graduated from Montevideo High School last year and had started classes at Minnesota West Community and Technical College in Granite Falls. In addition to working at Pizza Ranch, she also had a job as a certified nursing assistant at the Luther Haven nursing home in Montevideo, her mother said.

"I'm so proud to say she was my daughter," Savoy said.

Nicole Norfleet • 612-673-4495