ST. PETERSBURG — Passionate. Encouraging. Genuine. Kind.
Those are the words loved ones used to describe former Lakewood High School track star Mohammed “Mo” Haitham on what would have been his 20th birthday Monday night.
Instead, that became the night of his memorial. Hundreds gathered to remember Haitham by taking two laps around the school’s track in his honor.
Haitham died in a Dec. 6 shooting attack at Naval Air Station Pensacola. He joined the Navy after graduating in 2018, and was training in the classroom targeted by the shooter. He was fatally injured while trying to stop the attacker, his family has said.
He was one of three sailors killed in the attack, which also left eight others wounded.
Freeman Hinson, a longtime friend of Haitham and his mother, urged those in attendance to trust God through the pain of loss. He told youth in the crowd to be encouraged by the way Haitham lived, to do something meaningful in the “dash” between their dates of birth and death.
“Every foot race is a dash, and Mohammed has run his last race," Hinson said. “Now, it is time for those of us who are still living to do something special with the time we have within our dash."
In attendance Monday were family members, friends, educators and community leaders, including St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman. The mayor called Haitham a “remarkable citizen” that has made the city proud, adding that the teen “held the promise of a great leader.”
Veterans came to honor Haitham’s military service and his goal of becoming a Navy pilot. The crowd stood holding candles on the football field as loved ones shared stories and words of encouragement.
Haitham “displayed passion in everything that he did, whether it was academic achievements, athletic accomplishments or personal endeavors,” said Lakewood High Assistant Principal Susan Alvaro.
“He was every teacher’s favorite ... every coach’s dream.”
Track and field coach Anthony Snead opened the vigil with a prayer, asking God to look over Haitham’s mother, Evelyn Brady, who stood surrounded by family at the front of the crowd.
Later, she released into the sky 20 blue and white balloons as those around her lifted their heads to exclaim “happy birthday” and “we love you.”
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“I’m so sad for her, Lord,” Snead said as he prayed for Haitham’s mother. “I know that my heart is aching, and I’d imagine that her heart is aching 10 times harder.”
Snead coached Haitham for four years. The coach remembers him as a student who “tried to do his best in everything” but always valued teamwork over personal gain.
Hinson said that, despite his incredible talent, Haitham never bragged.
“He was an awesome teammate ... very supportive of everyone," Snead added. “He cared about winning, but more about the welfare of everybody on the team.”
Haitham always lifted others up, said 18-year-old Lucas Sheridon, a former teammate who met him on his first day at Lakewood. They ran cross country together, and he said Haitham was a “fun, friendly and caring spirit."
A viewing for Mohammed “Mo” Haitham will be held from 6 to 8 p.m. Friday at Mt. Zion Progressive Missionary Baptist Church, 955 20th St. S in St. Petersburg. A memorial is planned for 11 a.m. Saturday at First Baptist Church of St. Petersburg, 1900 Gandy Blvd. N.