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Loss of five teens in Hialeah stuns Little Haiti's immigrant community

HIALEAH — When Jonas Antenor started a film project with two of his friends, Evans Charles and Jean Pierre Ferdinand, the teens wanted to portray life in their Little Haiti neighborhood.

They wanted to make a movie with a happy ending.

But just when the director, Susan Kari, was editing the final five minutes of the project American Zoe Monday night, she got a text on her cell from a cast member: "Jonas is dead."

Not just him. But Charles, Ferdinand and two other friends, Juchen Martial, 19, and Peterson Nazon, 17 — all dead.

The suspected killer: carbon monoxide fumes from a running car that had seeped from a closed garage into the Hialeah motel room they had rented Sunday night to celebrate Martial's 19th birthday.

The deaths of the five teens, all from the same close-knit community of Haitian immigrants, devastated relatives, friends and neighbors, many of whom poured into the homes of the dead teens or stood in somber clusters on streets and sidewalks Tuesday throughout Little Haiti.

They were five friends who grew up blocks apart. Three had studied Miami Edison Senior High. Some prayed at Notre Dame D'Haiti Catholic Church.

Martial was looking forward to graduating high school in the spring. Nazon wanted to be a lawyer one day. Ferdinand was taking night classes to boost his grades at Miami Edison.

On screen, Antenor played a gangster stepping away from street life and hoping for a movie career. In real life, he was a loving brother known as a bit of a goofball, but like his character, he wanted to be an actor.

Charles wanted to be a stylist or a cosmetologist and practiced doing his mother's hair.

"It wasn't supposed to be like this, it wasn't supposed to be like this," whispered his mother Paulette Michel, clutching an image of her son.

Dressed in all black and with her head wrapped in a black and silver turban, Michel sobbed on the plastic-covered couch in the modest living room of her duplex.

She said 17 years ago she baptized Charles at Notre Dame D'Haiti Catholic Church in Little Haiti. She dressed her infant in a white three-piece suit with matching bowtie.

Michel said she never imagined that she would be planning funeral service for her son, who had attended Edison. This time, she will dress him in all black.

"It's come full circle," she said. "My baby is supposed to bury me, I'm not supposed to bury him."

Ferdinand, 16, was also close to his mother, Bernadette Ferdinand. He was the second youngest of six brothers and was known by his family as the "little mechanic'' for helping neighbors fix their broken cars.

"I won't ever see him again. I'm going to miss my baby," said his mother.

Nazon was born in Port-au-Prince and came to Florida when he was 17 months old. He was in 11th grade at Robert J. Renick Educational Center in Opa-Locka.

"He wanted to become a lawyer," said sister Patricia Nazon, who tried to convince her brother to stay home Sunday night instead of heading out to the El Presidente motel off of Okeechobee Road, where he and his friends were found dead the next day.

Martial, the birthday boy, was a senior at Ebenezer Christian Academy School in Wynwood. His family and close friends didn't know Martial and his friends planned to spend his birthday at a motel. Family members said he never slept away from home.

"We had a great Christmas party with Juchen, we all ate together. No one knew this would be the last time we saw him," said aunt Magalie Martial.

Martial, who was born in Cap-Haitian, came to live with his extended family in Miami when he turned 6. Magalie Martial said they hope to bring Martial's birth mother from Haiti, but was unsure if the mother would be able obtain a visa before her son's funeral.

It will take two to six months for official autopsy results, but officials believe carbon monoxide killed the five teens.

The group had borrowed a friends Kia Optima for the night, but needed a jump from another pal when the Kia wouldn't start. They left the car running in the single-car garage attached to their motel room, fearing the car wouldn't start if they turned it off.

Hialeah officials are reviewing the building's safety equipment and inspection records. A 2007 Florida law requires carbon monoxide detectors in all homes and apartment buildings built after July 1, 2008, with a heater, fireplace or attached garage be equipped with an alarm within 10 feet of bedrooms. The Presidente was built in 1995, according to county records.

Antenor's family has set up an account with Wachovia Bank to help pay for funeral costs.

It was Antenor who came up with the idea to make the film, American Zoe, a fictional tale shot in documentary style. "Zoe'' is U.S. slang for Haitian; in Creole, the word "zo'' means bone.

Antenor wrote his own poetry and idolized Tupac Shakur, even mimicking the rapper's nickname with his own — J-Pac.

"He was a goofball, laid-back and he always told us that he loved us," said his sister Vanessa Jueles. He had attended Miami Edison Senior high but didn't finish. Still, he wanted to learn, and borrowed books like Richard Wright's Native Son from his director friend, Kari.

Kari, an independent filmmaker who directed the unfinished film on a shoestring, said the young men were looking forward to adulthood.

"They would say their dream was not to have a giant mansion, but they wanted to have a wife and enough money to buy a house," she said. "It's a very sweet, simple American dream."

Loss of five teens in Hialeah stuns Little Haiti's immigrant community 12/28/10 [Last modified: Wednesday, December 29, 2010 11:21am]
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