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Long-lost son of a Tampa man is found too late

Ademuyiwa “Chris” Ayandokun died April 28 after an attack.

Ademuyiwa “Chris” Ayandokun died April 28 after an attack.

TAMPA — A man from Nigeria died in Tampa last week after an attack that left him in a coma.

And Tuesday afternoon, a young man in Philadelphia picked up the phone and learned the answer to a question that had haunted him since boyhood.

A woman spoke in smooth, accented English: "My name is Yemi. I'm your father's sister. It is the greatest moment of my life that I am hearing your voice."

More than a decade ago, the father, Ademuyiwa "Chris" Ayandokun, 43, an African immigrant, lost touch with his namesake son. Each had been searching for the other.

The phone call came too late to reunite them. But it bridged the years between the two families.

"We thought you were lost forever," said the woman on the phone, Yemi Ayandokun, who came to Tampa from England to attend her brother's funeral.

She smiled, her eyes wet.

Ademuyiwa Adeleke Ayandokun, whose American friends knew him as Chris, died April 28 at St. Joseph's Hospital.

He was involved in a violent confrontation at 7:30 p.m. April 22 on N 14th Street, reported Tampa police. Severely injured, he slipped into a coma, police say. The case has been ruled a homicide. There have been no arrests.

Ayandokun led a nomad's life. His sisters know some parts. His son's mother knows some, as does the old friend who brought him to Tampa, King Yeotan.

Born in Lagos, Nigeria, he came from a well-off family, his sisters say. His father was an engineer, his mother a medical administrator. He was restless, and moved to England in the 1980s to study fashion before coming to the United States.

Here he met Bridgette Sotelo, who became pregnant and gave birth to their son, who took his father's name. The pair never married, but stayed in touch during the boy's early years through letters. Then one of her letters came back with no forwarding address, and communication stopped, she says.

That was about 16 years ago.

Since then, Bridgette married and changed her last name. She moved across the country to Philadelphia and raised the couple's son. An honors student, he graduated from high school and now attends Indiana University of Pennsylvania, outside of Pittsburgh. He plays basketball and is a communications major.

He's had questions about his father, she said. "Right before he went to college, he was asking me for information," she said.

The teen told a Times reporter his father seemed a mystery. "I know nothing about that side of the family," he said.

Meanwhile, Ayandokun kept moving. He married in California, but the relationship fell apart, his sisters say.

When his childhood friend contacted him last year, Ayandokun told him life wasn't good in Los Angeles. "You can come to Florida and start from scratch," Yeotan told him.

Ayandokun's sisters say they implored him to move to England or back to Nigeria, where he had talked of retiring. He said he had some things to do first.

In October, he moved to Tampa and found a job driving a parking shuttle at the airport, Yeotan said. He was the same snappy dresser and jokester Yeotan remembered.

Ayandokun lived at 8107 Elmer St. in Sulphur Springs, a one-story house shaded by a mossy oak. Neighbor Erika Hampton said he didn't spend much time there, turning up every few days.

In the last few months, he dedicated time to the search for his son. He and his friend Yeotan used online directories to look for Sotelo, but they didn't know she had changed her name. They printed out hundreds of names and divided them up. One by one, they called and left messages.

I'm looking for my son, each message began. The anxious father kept a log of his search.

After Ayandokun died, family from around the world flew to Tampa and gathered Monday at the "Home Going Service for Bro Ademuyiwa Adeleke Ayandokun" at a church on 40th Street.

That same afternoon, a records search led a reporter to the family in Philadelphia, who said they were unaware of Ayandokun's whereabouts or his death.

Ayandokun's family called the teen and compared birth dates and other information to confirm they had the right person.

By Tuesday, many of Ayandokun's family members had already scattered to their various parts of the world. But the sisters said the news of Ayandokun's son would bring the family peace.

"It has been a burden on everyone for years," Yemi Ayandokun said. "Muyiwa is gone to rest, but I know he's happy."

That evening in Philadelphia, Sotelo didn't know quite how to react. "It's just so tragic and sad and I haven't got to talk to any of them yet. It's amazing because we've been looking for him," she said. "I'm overwhelmed. I'm glad my son is reunited with his family. It's just so much."

Yeotan wishes his friend had found his son in time.

"If he was here now, he'd be getting on a plane today," he said.

Staff writer Justin George and researcher John Martin contributed to this report. .

Long-lost son of a Tampa man is found too late 05/06/08 [Last modified: Monday, May 12, 2008 9:28am]
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