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    'You will be in our hearts forever'

    Hundreds mourn two brothers from Albania who had accomplished so much in their 11 months here.

    [Times photo: Scott Keeler]
    Sulejman Sefa mourns Tuesday over the caskets of sons Ervis and Almarin Sefa, who were killed when they were struck by two vehicles on Friday while riding a bicycle to Largo High School. "My only sons. How could this happen?" the distraught Sefa asked other mourners before the services.

    By CHRIS TISCH, Times Staff Writer
    © St. Petersburg Times
    published October 30, 2002


    LARGO -- Wet-eyed children sat on the floor. Sobbing family members and friends packed the pews. Mourners who didn't even know the dead boys jammed the lobby and spilled onto the sidewalk.

    There were at least 600 mourners, so many that the funeral home ran out of programs.

    Was this memorial for a longtime Pinellas County resident? A historic figure? A prominent person?

    The funeral Tuesday morning was for two young brothers who had lived in the United States less than a year. In that time, Ervis and Almarin Sefa befriended many people they met through school, work and the community.

    "After being here 11 months, Ervis and Almarin not only did good, they did great," said the Rev. George Patides. "They excelled academically, they were active with their peers and were loved and admired by all."

    The brothers died after they were struck by two cars while crossing Missouri Avenue Friday morning on a single bike. Ervis, 18, was believed to be pedaling the bicycle while Almarin, 14, was perched atop the handlebars.

    [Times photo: Scott Keeler]
    Mourners, many of whom are members of the Albanian-American community in Pinellas County, walk in a procession to the grave sites of Ervis and Almarin Sefa.

    They crossed the street where there is no crosswalk or traffic signal. Ervis died in the street. Almarin died the next day at All Children's Hospital. Police do not plan to file charges.

    The brothers were heading to Largo High School that morning, where they routinely caught a bus to Pinellas Park High School, where they attended an English as a Second Language program.

    Ervis, a senior, and Almarin, a freshman, both were straight-A students who had mastered their new language.

    Ervis had a part-time food service job at The Oaks of Clearwater, a nursing home where his mother also worked. Several elderly residents, leaning on canes or walkers, hobbled into the service to pay their respects.

    "He always had a smile on his face," said Beulah Bergman, Ervis' supervisor. "They loved him, all the residents. Words cannot describe that young man. He was kind to everyone. He just touched everyone."

    Bergman said Ervis hoped to save money for a car and for college.

    The family had lived in the Albanian city of Fieri, where Olga was a veterinarian and Sulejman was an electronics technician, friend George Zengo said.

    Many Albanians, eager to come to America, enroll in a type of lottery to become eligible to emigrate, said John Lulgjuraj, who hosts an Albanian radio show in Tampa.

    "Who does not want to come to America?" Lulgjuraj said. "It's rough going in Albania."

    After coming to Florida, where thousands of Albanians reside, Olga got work at the nursing center and Sulejman worked as an assembler, Zengo said.

    The boys held tight to their heritage but embraced America as their new home.

    "They were loving Albania and their new country," Zengo said. "They were very happy they came to this land."

    The brothers had an ability to span religions and ethnicities, engaging anyone they met.

    "They accomplished so much in their young years," Patides told mourners. "They pressed on with a smile as they transplanted across the globe. They gave us the best possible example of a winning attitude. Be like them."

    Olga is Christian and Sulejman is Muslim, Zengo said, and the service mirrored that diversity. Three religious leaders offered prayers at the service, two Christian and one Muslim. Two spoke Albanian, one English.

    The brothers' caskets sat at the front of the chapel, Albanian flags hanging from the tops.

    "Oh, my God," Olga Sefa said in Albanian to fellow mourners before the service. "My only sons. How could this happen?"

    After the service, the brothers' caskets were lifted into two hearses, which led a slowprocessional to a double grave site in Serenity Gardens Memorial Park. Friends placed flowers on the caskets before they were lowered into the ground.

    The parents kissed the caskets, which were covered by a blanket of red, white, yellow and purple flowers.

    Back at the funeral home, laid across a table in the lobby was a red Albanian flag, a black double-headed eagle emblazoned on it.

    Albanian words are etched in black marker on the flag, messages from friends who signed it before Ervis left for America. The writings look like yearbook messages, just written in a different language.

    "I hope that this will take my heart with it," one Albanian message reads.

    When Ervis and Almarin died, new messages were written in black marker on the same flag, these from new friends and classmates in America.

    "I will always remember you," reads one. "You will be in our hearts forever," says another.

    How to help

    Anyone wanting to help the Sefa family can make donations at Northwood Republic Bank at 3024 Enterprise Road in Clearwater. Donations can be made to the Sefa Brothers Memorial Trust Fund.

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