PALM HARBOR — Sead Bekric was 14 when he was hit and blinded by artillery fire on a school yard nearly 20 years ago during the Bosnian war.
The graphic photo of his bloody, maimed face helped introduce the world to the atrocities that have been blamed on former Bosnian Serb military commander Ratko Mladic.
Bekric, now 32 and living in Palm Harbor, told the Associated Press on Wednesday that he was shocked but satisfied to hear of Mladic's recent arrest in a small village near Belgrade.
Mladic, 69, is accused of orchestrating the massacre of 8,000 Muslim men at Srebrenica in 1995. He will appear before a judge Friday at The Hague in the Netherlands on charges of genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity.
"Years have passed by. We have lost our loved ones and they will never return to us," said Bekric, whose father was killed during the war and whose sister was gang-raped. "When you go through the horror that we went through and losing our loved ones through horrible crimes, you'll never have closure."
In 1993, Bekric was kicking a soccer ball with friends when he heard an explosion nearby. After he ran toward a friend who had been injured, he said, his left eye was "blown out of my head." His right eye was crushed like a grape and his nose was shattered.
In the days after the attack, he languished in a filthy hospital in Bosnia with other wounded children. Doctors pulled shrapnel from his face — with no antibiotics or anesthesia.
A photo of Bekric made the cover of Newsweek in May 1993. He was also on TV newscasts around the world.
An American woman, Claire Halasz, was so moved by Bekric she worked with a group called AmeriCares to bring him to her home in California. There, he received more than a dozen surgeries. Doctors were able to reconstruct his face, but not his sight.
Bekric remained in the United States thereafter, facing tough obstacles. He didn't know English and couldn't read Braille.
"I was 14 years old, but mentally, I was a 20-year-old," he said. "I had learned to run from gunfire, I learned to survive. And when I came here, all those things were in me."
He attended high school in the Los Angeles area, and when Halasz moved to Florida, he went with her. She encouraged him to go to college and speak out about the atrocities in his country.
Bekric earned a degree in international relations and is working on a master's in political science. He has owned a business that sold magnifying products for the visually impaired, as well as a cafe featuring foods from his home country.
He currently lives with his fiancee and has two young sons.