SPRING HILL — In the faded black-and-white picture on the dining room table, a boy and a girl frolic on the beach. The kids are Howard Bandoo and Magali Perez, Sunday school friends from Brooklyn who were rarely seen without each other.
The photograph is a silent reminder to the tight-knit Bandoo family that time and distance cannot stand in the way of destiny. As a child, Perez had always told them that she wanted to become part of their family.
And, somehow, her improbable wish came true.
The childhood friends had lost touch for more than a quarter century before reuniting a couple of months ago through an extraordinary confluence of events. A whirlwind courtship — literally, a few days long — then led to a wedding and the fruition of the little girl's dream.
But in an instant, it was over.
Three days after their wedding, the couple were headed to their honeymoon in Orlando on Tuesday night when Bandoo, 39, was killed in a car collision on U.S. 41.
The Florida Highway Patrol said Bandoo's 2001 Honda and a 2004 Chevrolet sport utility vehicle driven by Bonita Vanstory Mathis, 51, of Brooksville hit head on. Both Mathis and Perez, 40, who was driving the Honda, remained hospitalized in serious condition Thursday.
"(Perez) dreamt it and followed through on her faith," said Stephen Bandoo, the oldest of five Bandoo brothers. "God said to find Howard and she found him. She knew he was in trouble."
Bandoo is survived by his wife and a 15-year-old son who lives in New Jersey.
Family members say Bandoo was virtually lost to them for a number of years, dabbling in drugs and compiling a relatively lengthy criminal record.
He bounced around California, New Jersey and Georgia for more than 15 years before going to Gainesville in 2004, records show. He had been arrested at least a dozen times in Florida since 2002 on charges including aggravated assault with a deadly weapon, possession of a controlled substance and cocaine distribution.
As recently as Aug. 21, Bandoo was arrested in Hillsborough County on a probation violation charge.
"He was still very sweet, still very kind," said his mother, Sonia Bandoo. "But drugs will deter you from the path. It takes away your focus. Howard was going through a dark time."
Things took an immediate change for the better when Perez reached out to the family about three months ago.
It all started with a dream.
Perez, who was living in New York, told the Bandoos that she'd recently had a vision that Howard was destined to die in a car accident. She was struck by an urge to contact him as soon as possible.
The next day, Perez tracked down an online site that had been set up to memorialize the family's youngest son, David, who died in January of heart failure. There, she found a phone number for another Bandoo brother, Conrad. Within days, Perez and Howard Bandoo were proclaiming their love for each other over the phone and making plans to meet in person.
Bandoo had much bigger ideas. He proposed over the phone to Perez, a woman whom he hadn't laid eyes on in nearly 25 years.
"He was so excited about life again," Stephen Bandoo said. "Maggie turned his life to another direction."
Seemingly renewed by this unexpected reunion, Howard Bandoo began attending church, apologizing to his family and friends for his past troubles and plotting a new course for his life. He began planning his wedding with particular vigor.
"I didn't understand why there was such a rush," brother Peter Bandoo said. "I actually told my wife that he was acting like he was dying or something."
The couple were married Saturday at Pine Island, flanked by family members, the brilliant backdrop of the Gulf of Mexico and a cloudless sky. The Bandoos celebrated at the quaint little beach until the sky finally turned dark.
"We wanted to have the sky as their cathedral," Sonia Bandoo said. "Isn't that awesome?"
The wedding came only a week before Howard's brother Peter was set to deploy to Iraq with his National Guard air unit stationed in Brooksville. So the Bandoo family took the next couple of days to rejoice and prepare for Peter's impending departure.
Howard and his new bride were heading to Orlando for their honeymoon and planned to return to Spring Hill before the weekend. Finally, things seemed to be falling into place for him.
"We're satisfied," Sonia Bandoo said. "This is a victorious death. We're so happy that Howard got the romance of his life before he died."
Times researcher Will Gorham contributed to this report. Joel Anderson can be reached at [email protected] or (352)754-6120.