ST.PETERSBURG, Fla. — Mohammed Haitham would have turned 20 years old Monday. So on his birthday, his loved ones are remembering the fallen hero by doing something he loved to do — run.
"I was just feeling his presence, I was feeling the wind and just feeling him running alongside me saying 'Go Mama go, you can do this,'" Haitham's mother, Evelyn Brady, said
Dozens of people ran and walked two laps around the track at Lakewood High School; the 800 meter race was Haitham's favorite. It was part of a vigil to honor his heroism and bravery.
Haitham was one of three soldiers killed during a shooting at Naval Air Station Pensacola. Their actions are credited with saving lives.
"Mohammed, praised commendable laudable. These are just a few adjectives that can describe the son, brother, cousin, loved one and friend we all knew," Lakewood High School Principal Erin Savage said to start the event.
Family members, community members, classmates, staff, law enforcement, military members and friends listened on, many wearing shirts with Haitham's photo.
"We have a fallen soldier who fought for us, fought for his country and through Mohammed I am able to really be proud of this airman and this guy who went to honor his country," said Haitham's former track coach, Anthony Snead, ahead of leading a prayer.
Song and candlelight followed.
"He was that kid that made sure everybody had a smile on their face. If he saw somebody walking down he made sure he came by so the head would pick up. He was a phenomenal teammate, never letting his team down. Running on an injury. He was our girls assistant assistant basketball coach and he’d be on the sidelines when times were tough boosting up their spirits so that’s how he’ll be remembered. Just an amazing young man that gave everything he had. Lived with passion and our everyday hero," said Lakewood High School assistant principal Susan Alvaro.
Haitham was remembered as a hero. Not just in one moment, but every day.
"There’s something about Mohammed. You can speak to him one time and you remember Mohammed. Someone could be talking about Mohammed and you remember Mohammed. There’s something about Mohammed I can’t explain what it is but there’s something about Mohammed," said Brady.
She said taking to the track was something she had to do to honor her son.
"Just be all you can be. He did. He he pushed himself to greatness. And I’m proud of that I’m proud to say that is my son I’m so proud," Brady said.
Family members ended the vigil, releasing 20 balloons into the sky, shouting 'Happy Birthday!'