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Remembering A Victim Of The Pensacola Naval Base Shooting

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

We have the story now of a victim in Friday's mass shooting in Pensacola. Mohammed Haitham was one of three people killed. Family and friends say he loved to run, he loved to make other people laugh and, like his mother, he joined the military. He died at age 19. Here's Kerry Sheridan from our member station WUSF.

KERRY SHERIDAN, BYLINE: His first name was Mohammed, but he often went by Mo. He came home to St. Petersburg on a surprise visit at Thanksgiving. His cousin, Ashley Williams, says that was the last time she saw him.

ASHLEY WILLIAMS: Being a pilot was actually something he, you know, dreamed of doing - jumping out of the planes.

SHERIDAN: His mother was a Navy veteran, and she was proud of his decision. Williams says Mohammed was like a brother to her. He was often joking around and teasing her.

WILLIAMS: He was a comedian. He would tease everyone about their height because he sprouted, like, overnight.

SHERIDAN: At 6-foot-3, he towered over many people. He had a protective streak and also loved to sing. Sam Cooke's "A Change Is Gonna Come" was his favorite. But did he have a great voice?

WILLIAMS: Karaoke voice.

(LAUGHTER)

SHERIDAN: Billy Kline, who ran track with him at Lakewood High School in St. Petersburg, also recalls his sense of humor.

BILLY KLINE: I wasn't the fastest runner, of course, when I first started. But he would always be the one to encourage everyone, get everyone through a tough workout. Even when he'd be out on the track kicking your butt, he'd still be yelling words of encouragement to you.

SHERIDAN: Haitham was a long-distance runner, a star on the track team and often ran with his best friend Skyler. Skyler's mother, Kimberly Walker, recalls that the last time she saw him, he seemed to have grown and was more like a man than the kid she once knew.

KIMBERLY WALKER: I mean, he was always comfortable in his skin, but there was just like a calm - he was even calmer and stronger than before.

SHERIDAN: Haitham was killed 10 days before his 20th birthday. During his surprise visit to family at Thanksgiving, he left his mother a Bible. She insisted he sign it, and he did.

WILLIAMS: That Bible, I know my aunt will cherish it - cherish it forever.

SHERIDAN: His cousin, Ashley Williams, says the family knows little about his final moments except one thing.

WILLIAMS: The commander called her the - believe it was Saturday - saying that Mohammed did indeed try to stop the shooter and that he was a hero. It's not surprising. That wasn't surprising to anyone in the family.

SHERIDAN: His family and friends remember Mohammed Haitham as a peacemaker who died the way he lived, trying to protect others.

For NPR News, I'm Kerry Sheridan in St. Petersburg.

(SOUNDBITE OF HELIOS' "SOUTH TREE") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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