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A senseless killing in a country of dreams

Eduardo Natal's relatives returned to Tampa on Sunday. Home, I would call it, but I'm not sure that's the word his aunt would use.

Natal's aunt, Myriam Tranquilini, had escorted her nephew's body back to Sao Paulo, Brazil, for burial. She had to face his mother. She had to cry and pray with her and watch the earth cover Eduardo's casket.

Eduardo, 23 and in this country only two years, was gunned down 10 days ago as he delivered a pizza. His body was found the next morning in the driveway of a house where one of the two, 20-ish suspects had once lived.

The house was in manicured, mannered Carrollwood, a place people move to because they have a picture of it in their heads. The picture has nothing to do with reality. People believe it anyway.

Foreigners look at this country this way, as if every inch of it were Carrollwood. Certainly Mrs. Tranquilini did.

"I'm so confused about it . . . I thought we were safer here. Because things like this in Brazil, they happen a lot (because) people don't have food, don't have money. But here people have everything they want. Why would they do it?"

The question had been asked before in Tampa.

The circumstances were similar. Creepily so.

Almost seven years ago, in September 1993, a 17-year-old Turkish student was beaten to death by two punks he cut off while driving.

Before he died, Mahmet Bahar was doing something as American as delivering pizza. He was studying English at the University of Tampa.

The police said Eduardo Natal was ambushed by the two men later arrested as he came to deliver the pizza. Natal had no idea what was coming. Bahar probably didn't either, as he stepped out of his car and was confronted by the pair who had followed him home.

As in Natal's case, Bahar's body was found outside the morning after he died. As in Natal's case, the victim was a young man who came to the United States for all the reasons people have always come here.

"My son believed in America," Bahar's father later wrote from Turkey in a letter sent to American papers. "He thought America would broaden his horizons. He believed in the American system. What's more, he trusted it. For him, the American system represented peace, and a relaxed, easier, modern, true and progressive way of life."

Those words _ do you laugh or cry at them?

Eduardo Natal had studied civil engineering for three years in Brazil. He came here to make money so he could bring his fiancee here and get married. He was already on his way to becoming a citizen, his aunt said.

You can only imagine what kind of citizen, what kind of man.

And you can only imagine what his survivors think of this country now.

Eduardo's aunt, Mrs. Tranquilini, has been here four years. She owns her own business, designing Internet software. But she's begun to wonder if she should go back to Brazil.

She is married to an American. She has a 17-year-old son who has all the tastes and habits of an American teenager.

So she'll probably stay _ and learn to live the fully American life in which fear seeps in under the edges, as you open your front door, cross a parking lot, stand in line at a checkout counter, ponder the influences beyond your own that shape your children.

"It's a wonderful country, but I worry about the kids here," Mrs. Tranquilini said. "You can find crazy people everywhere (but) here the crazy are kids, 21, 18."

Her voice trailed off.

It must have hurt to talk.

It hurt this American to listen.