(This story originally appeared in the Bradenton Herald)
BRADENTON – They crowded around the bottom of a flight of stairs Friday evening with one person in mind: Fritho Exantus.
Exantus, 35, was fatally shot about 1 a.m. Tuesday in the Avalon Square apartment complex, 3506 14th St. W. Relatives told investigators three gunmen entered the home they shared with Exantus and killed him.
It was here, just below Apartment 254, where more than 30 of his family members and friends gathered to remember him over the glow of candlelight. Under clusters of red, green and blue balloons, the group recited the Lord’s Prayer in unison.
Exantus’ sister, Mirlande Exantus, traveled from Belle Glade in South Florida to attend the vigil with some of her family members.
“It’s hard right now,” the 26-year-old said. “We’re trying to make it.”
Exantus said she last spoke to her brother March 20. She said she tried to call him Monday night, but couldn’t reach him. She said she felt like something didn’t add up.
Around 3 a.m. Tuesday, Exantus found out her brother died. She said she didn’t believe it until she went on her brother’s Facebook page. That’s when Exantus saw a friend post ‘Rest in peace. I am so sorry.'”
The sad thing about it, Exantus said, was that the following day, her other brother, Wilky Exantus, turned 24.
“My brother was expecting to get that call to say, ‘Happy birthday!'” Exantus said, breaking into loud sobs. “He was shocked. He didn’t believe it.”
The Manatee County Sheriff’s Office said this week that it doesn’t believe the shooting was random. Family members, however, have not been able to provide investigators with a possible motive.
As of Friday, Manatee Sheriff’s Office spokesman Dave Bristow said there were no updates in the homicide case.
Albrina Frasier, who has two children with Exantus, said his death still felt unreal.
“I still can’t believe it because I just seen him two or three days before,” the 21-year-old Bradenton resident said, adding that Exantus had their 3-year-old daughter, Zamariah Frasier, with him over the weekend.
Frasier said he was a great father.
“We had our differences, but at the end of the day, he was there,” Frasier said.
Frasier, like several others at the vigil, wore a T-shirt in loving memory of Exantus. On the front was a photo of Exantus with angel wings behind him and the dates of his birth and death.
“Gone But Never Forgotten,” read its back, with photos of Exantus and of his two children with Frasier — Zamariah and 1-year-old Zaiden Frasier.
‘A good man’
“That’s a good man,” Frasier said, looking down at the shirt. “He don’t do nothing to nobody. I would never think he would be on a T-shirt. I didn’t ever want my baby to see him on no T-shirt. It’s not for me to explain to my child she won’t never see her daddy.”
Kimberly Lamm, 44, worked with Exantus for about seven months at CertainTeed in Ellenton.
“He was a joy to work with. I had to be here when I heard about it. I had to be here,” Lamm told the crowd after the prayer. “Just know that all the good deeds he did, God remembers that.”