LAKELAND | Every day, Donna Jaber Abu-Khdair looks at her three children and wishes they would’ve had a chance to know their father.
He was a caring, compassionate and hard-working man, she said.
He loved his family more than anything and would help anyone who needed it.
And although he might have looked tough on the outside, she said, on the inside he had a heart of gold.
“They say that the good go first, it was definitely him,” she said.
Fadi “Vinny” Abu-Khdair was shot to death shortly after 10 p.m. Feb. 9, 2005, while working alone at the BP gas station and convenience store he owned at 835 W. Memorial Blvd.
He didn’t normally work by himself, but his two night shift employees didn’t show up that evening. And he would work extra to keep the store up and running, his wife said.
Lakeland Police Detective Brad Grice said it appears someone was trying to rob the 25-year-old when something went horribly wrong.
Donna Abu-Khdair said people had tried to rob her husband before, but he never let it happen. He was tough and would always stand up for himself. But he wasn’t able to that night. And more than anything, his widow said, she wants to know why.
“He was a true victim,” Grice said. “He was working when somebody came in the store and tried to rob him and then shot him for no apparent reason.”
Grice has been working on the case recently and said he thinks he and the Sgt. Jeff Birdwell are getting close to solving it. They just need a little help from the community.
Earlier this year, LPD revamped its homicide division to let Grice and Detective Scott Kercher focus their work on cold cases, such as Abu-Khdair’s, and to give detectives Russ Hurley and Brian Wallace time to work on more recent homicides.
As part of a continuing series in partnership with LPD, The Ledger is profiling many of the department’s 38 cold cases and unsolved homicides.
The detectives that with a little help from the community, they might be able to solve more of the cases and hopefully bring closure to many more families.
“We’re just a hair away,” Grice said of the Abu-Khdair case. “Unless somebody throws a kink in this, we’re at least headed in the right direction.”
A FAMILY MAN
Fadi Abu-Khdair was living his American dream.
A Palestinian from Jerusalem, he had something of a hard life while growing up in Tampa, his widow said.
He was the youngest of three siblings and would do anything for his older brother and sister, she said. “He was crazy about them.”
Donna Abu-Khdair said her husband dedicated his life to working at his convenience store in Lakeland, trying to better the shop and the life he could give to his children.
“He gave everything just to get some kind of a business going,” she said.
The couple married young, and Donna had just given birth to their third child, a little girl named Lena, six weeks before Abu-Khdair was killed.
Donna said the couple’s son, Issa, now 15, is the only child who actually remembers Abu-Khdair. Their middle daughter, Lilia, now 11, was only 3 years old when her father was killed.
She said the girls often ask about their father, and she tries to explain what happened. She tells them how great person he was and how much he loved them and would do anything for them. She also talks about how much Lilia looks like him.
A TERRIBLE NIGHT
But the hardest part, she said, is telling them that the “bad guy” is still out there.
“How do you think they feel knowing that the person who killed their father is still out there?” Donna Abu-Khdair asked.
She said she’ll never forget the night she got that phone call from the police.
Or how she felt when they told her he had been shot.
Or how for the past nine years she’s struggled to make ends meet, just to raise the family he always dreamed of having.
Or how his babies are growing up without him.
But she said that every day she tries to be happy, for her children and for her husband.
“We take it day by day. And as long as I see them smiling, and as long as I know they have a future, that’s what he would want,” she said. “That’s what I live by.”
Donna Abu-Khdair said she has faith in the LPD detectives and knows Grice is working on catching the person who killed her husband.
She said she hopes he’ll make some kind of break in the case soon.
“It’s been nine years,” she said, “nine years of making myself crazy when somebody out there knows something, and I know if they just come forward and say what they know, they’ll feel better. And they’ll ease my heart to let his children rest in peace. Let him rest in peace.”
Stephanie Allen can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 863-802-7550.