(This story originally appeared in the Bradenton Herald)
PALMETTO — In Nadya Yousef’s eyes, her two younger brothers were loved wherever they went. They weren’t just her brothers — they were her best friends.
“They were the most valuable thing we had,” she said at a Tuesday evening vigil of Khasem Yousef, 23, and Faares Yousef, 17, who were killed eight days prior in Palmetto.
The brothers were shot dead between 2:30 and 2:45 p.m. Sept. 7 while working a holiday shift at their family’s store, Snappy’s Mart, 559 17th St. W., Palmetto.
Devin Chandler, 25, Palmetto, was arrested by Palmetto police as the suspected shooter and later charged with two counts of second-degree murder, one count of armed robbery with a firearm and a probation violation. He was ordered held without bond in the Manatee County jail.
More than 40 people listened to Nadya speak at the vigil organized by Palmetto Build — a coalition of area houses of worship. The vigil was originally supposed to be a march down 17th Street West, but supporters never left the parking lot of the Yousef family’s convenience store.
Surrounded, the 24-year-old Nadya cast her eyes toward a written statement in her hands and shared details about her beloved brothers.
If Faares bought something, he’d always make sure to bring home enough for the family, she recalled. Khasem was also generous, often spoiling his mother and sisters. He also never forgot an event or celebration.
Nadya’s 21-year-old sister, Bahia Yousef, clung to her left arm.
A circle of church officials, politicians and concerned citizens gathered in song and prayer. They also called for a united community in the wake of the two tragic killings.
“God, what we want to do is to declare this day, to put a stake in the ground that says the wickedness that is in this world is not going to defeat our community,” said Jason Lane, pastor of the Skyway Community Chapel. “We pray right now that Satan, in all his works, are just defeated by the blood of Jesus Christ.”
Pastors from the Eternity Temple First Born Church of the Living God Inc. and New Life General Baptist Church also prayed.
“We ask for peace to come — peace that begins in our homes and our hearts,” said the Rev. Lawrence Livingston of Eternity Temple First Born Church of the Living God Inc.
“Lord, let this be a new start that we’re going to stand against violence as a community and as individuals. We’re going to raise our children, teach them to love one another and to support one another and be partners with one another.”
Hassan Shibly, executive director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations — Florida, called for the community to come together against violence, regardless of race, religion or ethnicity.
“We are the people that speak for this community. It’s all of us here,” he said. “The good will prevail. … and if there’s one thing that came out of this tragedy, it’s that good people are united together to build a better society.”
Raed Yousef, the victims’ father, thanked everyone present.
“I don’t know what to say. … Your support is immensely appreciated,” he said with exhausted eyes. “Standing with us helps us cope with our loss. We appreciate it.”
How, Nadya Yousef said she keeps thinking, could the murderer have looked at her brothers’ innocent faces and shoot them?
“How did he do that?” she asked. “Why is this evil-intended human just walking around, ready to kill two amazing souls for something as worthless as money?”
She thanked the crowd and the thousands of people she said have helped her family through this difficult time. She thanked those in her family’s native Palestine who honored her brothers in a separate funeral service.
“We were humbled by the amount of support we received, from close family to the people we have never met, from people nearby to people all across the world,” Nadya said. “You have truly helped us honor our brothers in your prayers and presence, and we are forever grateful and ask God to bless you for whatever you have done for us.”