Friends describe America M. Thayer as outgoing and bubbly, the kind of person who easily made friends with customers in her retail jobs.
If Walker Martinez was having a bad day working at a gas station across the street from Thayer's job at the My Pillow store, Thayer could turn it around by simply stopping by for her regular purchase.
"She always came in to grab a can of Pepsi and just brightened our days," Martinez said. "Even if you had a string of bad customers in line and saw her you just knew it would be OK."
Friday, Thayer's friends and acquaintances struggled to process the news that her longtime boyfriend, Alexis Saborit, had been charged with beheading her in front of onlookers in Shakopee.
Saborit, 42, is accused of killing Thayer, 56, at the intersection of 4th Avenue and Spencer Street about 2:30 p.m. Wednesday. He and Thayer lived in Shakopee and had dated for about a dozen years.
Saborit was charged Friday in Scott County District Court with one count of second-degree intentional murder. He made his first court appearance that afternoon, where bail was set at $2.5 million. He did not have an attorney listed as of late Friday afternoon.
Saborit told police he and Thayer were going to a court appearance of his on Wednesday when she told him she wanted to end their relationship, the charges said. He allegedly admitted to killing her with a knife in response.
"I was shocked, but not surprised because of the way [Saborit] had been," said Lori Stejskal, who worked with Thayer for three years at a Dollar Tree store.
Stejskal and two other women who also worked at Dollar Tree said they saw several signs of domestic abuse: Thayer occasionally had unexplained bruises on her face and once came to work with a broken arm. She tried to hurry home after work to avoid angering Saborit. She set her phone to Facebook's FaceTime function so Saborit could watch her as she worked from 4 to 9:30 p.m.
Thayer also often asked to stay at co-workers' homes because she feared Saborit's behavior.
Reba Skaar, a friend who worked with Thayer at Dollar Tree, said Thayer sometimes spent the night sleeping at her desk at My Pillow or in her car at the Amazon fulfillment center parking lot.
"I knew Alexis was just dangerous," said Skaar, who recalled a time the couple visited her apartment and Saborit refused to let Thayer use the bathroom alone.
Thayer worked at My Pillow and Dollar Tree, leaving the latter job in 2020.
"America has been with My Pillow for many years, bringing smiles to so many faces," My Pillow CEO Mike Lindell said in a written statement. "She was so sweet and kind. We are devastated and are praying for her family."
Friends said Thayer emigrated from Cuba and told them she attended high school in Minnetonka. She had a son in the state and a sister in the southern U.S.
"She was always in an upbeat mood," said friend and former co-worker Eileen Necklen. "She was just a spitfire … an unbelievable person."
Necklen and Stejskal said Thayer's rapport with customers was so strong that several Dollar Tree regulars stopped by Friday to express their condolences, some with bouquets in hand.
"I want [people] to know that even though she was going through all of this, that she was just probably one of the sweetest humans ever, like an angel on earth," said Tori Finney, who got to know Thayer while working at the gas station with Martinez.
According to the criminal complaint and a search warrant affidavit filed in connection with Thayer's death: Police found Thayer's body on the ground next to her bloodied car with doors open on both sides; her head was located about a foot away from her body. A sheath for a machete-style knife was found in a nearby yard.
A knife, shirt and bloody shoes were found in a recycling bin a few blocks away.
One witness was a few cars behind Thayer's vehicle and saw Saborit behind the wheel making a hitting motion before throwing an object into a yard. The witness also saw Saborit drag something that looked like a body out of the car.
Police viewed video recorded by a witness through a residential window; it appeared to show Saborit pull Thayer out of the car into the street and then pick up the head by the hair.
Saborit was arrested about 1 ½ miles from the scene near the TraveLodge Hotel where he was staying.
At the time of the attack, Saborit had a court hearing in Scott County for felony charges alleging that he had set fire to the couple's apartment during a confrontation with police in Shakopee. The charges said he had been at the Pullman Club on Nov. 9 and was smashing car windows outside with a baseball bat.
At one point during that standoff with police, Saborit brandished a machete, which he ultimately threw to the ground.
Saborit's criminal history in Minnesota includes a domestic assault conviction for attacking Thayer in 2017. Saborit pinned Thayer to the ground because he thought she had talked to another man at a bar that night.
Saborit also has a domestic abuse conviction in Louisiana from 2011.
Thayer's friends said they want her to be remembered for being a funny and loving friend who went out of her way to help others. In 2019, Skaar was experiencing health issues so Thayer, who was working, called an ambulance to Skaar's apartment. Thayer finished her shift at Dollar Tree, then spent about three hours sitting next to Skaar in the hospital.
"I couldn't believe it," Skaar said. "I knew we were friends, but that just showed how much she cared."
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