He worked in the United States to escape political troubles, supporting a wife and two sons.
By JAMIE JONES
Published February 15, 2004
LARGO - For months at a time, Lili Gjika lived in a room at his brother's house in Largo and worked construction jobs, sending money to his wife and children in Albania. Almost every day, he called home, spending $5 to $10 to talk with his 10-year-old, Robert, and his 22-year-old, Eduard.
In the evenings, Gjika, 46, often went to the Starbucks in downtown Clearwater, a gathering spot for the local Albanian community.
On Friday night, about 8:30 p.m., Gjika was sitting inside the coffee shop, waiting for his nephew. He began talking to an Albanian man whom he did not know well, relatives said. The men argued and walked outside.
Shortly after, Gjika's nephew arrived and found him in the parking lot of 433 Cleveland St. Gjika told him to quickly get in the car, and then he collapsed, relatives said.
Paramedics took Gjika to Morton Plant Hospital in Clearwater, where he died shortly after, said Wayne Shelor, spokesman for the Clearwater Police Department. He had been stabbed in the chest, relatives said.
No arrests have been made.
On Saturday afternoon, more than two dozen men and women visited the Largo home where Gjika lived to pay their respects. They sobbed as they discussed what Gjika's wife and children will do without him.
"One man is gone, but three other lives are ruined," said another of Gjika's nephews, Mario Gjika, 21.
Mario Gjika said his uncle had been granted political asylum, and had traveled between Albania and the United States for about six years.
He described his uncle as hardworking and outgoing, a man who enjoyed hunting and fishing almost as much as a good novel. In Albania, he had a winery that helped support his family, but had to leave because of political troubles, Mario Gjika said.
His earnings were needed in part because his 22-year-old son is ill and can't work, Mario Gjika said. The 10-year-old is not yet able to help his mother, and will perhaps be the one most crushed by his father's death, Mario Gjika said.
"He just called this morning and asked for his father," Mario Gjika said.
The family called cousins in Albania, and they told Gjika's wife what happened, Mario Gjika said.
"He was working so hard here, trying to give the kids a life with a future," Mario Gjika said.