A path to follow. A legacy to honor.
By Kenneth Fine
Published in News on May 6, 2012 1:50 AM
Ismail Kandeel talks about the murder of his brother, Ribhi, inside of the Brookside Convenient Mart.
Hanine Kandeel uses her hand to mimic a gun at the spot that her father, Ribhi, was murdered inside the Brookside Convenient Mart.
Fennan Kandeel took her father's hand and told him just how much he was loved.
She knew the tube in his throat would keep him from speaking -- that he might not even be able to hear his youngest daughter vow to make him proud.
But she tried to provoke a response anyway.
"I said, 'Dad, I love you. If you love me, blink twice,'" the 15-year-old said. "And you know what? My father, he blinked twice."
She had no idea that in a matter of days, Ribhi Kandeel would die -- that the image of him affirming his affection for her with his eyes would be one of the last she would have of the man who sacrificed so much for his little girl.
She had no way of knowing that less than two years later, she would travel down the East Coast to attend a murder trial in the city he worked in to ensure his family never wanted for anything -- that she would step inside the store he owned before a gunman entered it and fired a shot that changed everything.
"It's hard. It's really hard. But then again, this is what my father worked for," Fennan said, looking down at the area inside the Brookside Convenient Mart where her father lay bleeding after a bullet left him paralyzed nearly four years ago. "He took his time out to build this. So for me not to come in here, it wouldn't be right."
Now that the three men charged -- and tried -- for what Goldsboro police alleged was their role in Ribhi's death have been acquitted, Fennan and her siblings are still searching for justice.
But even if it never comes, they will forever cling to memories no shooter could ever take away.
And they will strive, every day, to live up to the standard set by a man remembered as much for his compassion for all he came into contact with as his love for his family.
"He didn't leave me his life, but he left me a trail to follow," Fennan said. "And I'm going to follow that path."
Ismail Kandeel remembers when he and Ribhi had nothing -- how as young boys growing up in Palestine, they worked for food in a camp just outside Ramallah.
"We see a hard life, a tough life," Ismail said.
So when they came to the United States, they saw, for the first time, an opportunity to prosper.
"Listen, after what we go through in our life, we wanted to make better future," Ismail said. "And when we came here, we found justice. We found people who cared about somebody else. We were shocked. I said, 'This is a place you can live, a place you can build a family.'"
And it was a place, they felt, where they could use their experiences in Palestine to help others.
"One day, my brother and I were standing in a line to get the food. At the camp, you had to wait to eat. Like I say, it was a hard life, a rough life," Ismail said. "That day, somebody, he gave us the bread. It meant something. So (at Brookside), at the end of the month, people come in. They have no money. They say, 'We need food; we need this.' I help them. My brother was same way.
"Mom comes in and says, 'My kid's hungry.' What am I gonna say? I have heart. I went through that when I was a kid. I was hungry and someone gave me bread that day. How can I see these people hungry and not feed them. No way. The mom's drunk, drugs, whatever. If they have baby, they won't go hungry."
Ribhi's daughter, Hanine, has her own memories of her father's selflessness.
He was in a hospital in New York nearly a year after the shooting -- still paralyzed from the chest down.
But instead of asking for things for himself, he had his children use the $40 that would have given him access to a television to buy candy for the nurses charged with caring for him.
"He was always doing things like that," Hanine said.
Her older sister, Hannan, choked up when she shared another story.
It was Ribhi's birthday -- and four days before her own.
"I bought him this thing of roses and I bought him an ice cream cake and stuff like that," Hannan said. "He took away his flowers and said, 'I can't buy you anything, so here.' He took a rose out and handed it to me. And then he said, 'I want to remember me when I was happy.' It broke my heart."
It was nearly midnight Aug. 18, 2008, when the girls' brother, Mahmud, received a frantic phone call from the man who found their father bleeding on the floor inside his store.
"My brother ran downstairs and he was like, 'Dad's been shot.' He was told he had got shot in the head," Hanine said. "Honestly, I didn't know what to do or say."
Fennan was also stunned.
"I ran upstairs and just locked my room and cried," she said. "I don't cry in front of people. I hide my feelings."
The next day, they arrived by their father's side.
And they learned that he was paralyzed -- that there was still a bullet inside him; that he would never fully recover.
But "even though he was paralyzed, he was always smiling," Hannan said.
He wanted to be strong for his little girls.
"He was brave," Hanine said. "And he taught us to be brave -- every one of us."
Fennan took her father's hand one final time.
She knew that he was fading -- that this might be the last time he would hear her voice.
"When he died, I was still holding his hand," she said. "I said, 'Dad, don't worry. I'm going to make you proud. I'm going to make you proud.'"
It was Sept. 10, 2010.
None of Ribhi's children will ever forget that day.
And they have vowed, ever since, to emulate the man they say he was.
So even as a judge read the not guilty verdict reached by a local jury a few days ago -- when he informed the court that the three men who police alleged were behind the shooting that ultimately cost their father his life -- they stayed strong.
And when Fennan felt tears forming in her eyes, she fled the courtroom.
In her own way, she was being strong -- strong like her father always told her to be.
"That's a sign, for them, of weakness, and I'm not weak," she said. "They can't break me."