Members of Baltimore's tightly woven Lithuanian community gathered at St. Alphonsus Church yesterday to say goodbye to one of their own, Vitalis V. Pilius, who was slain last week after he was abducted from a downtown parking garage during a robbery.
Before the hourlong service, relatives and friends embraced outside the West Saratoga Street church.
Some spoke with sadness about the death of "Vito," a father of four young boys, soccer coach and support technician for Hewlett-Packard Co. Others were outraged about at the slaying, for which two teen-agers have been arrested.
"It's pretty tough; it's pretty hard to believe," said Jim Smith, president of the Our Lady of Victory Soccer Club.
"He was just so good with kids. . . . I still can see him with all the soccer balls." Mr. Pilius coached young boys in the club.
"We're a close-knit community. Everyone knew him," said Nijole Kaltreider, sports director at the Baltimore Lithuanian Athletic Club, where Mr. Pilius was a member.
Mr. Pilius' parents, Vladas and Anele Pilius of Arbutus, were Lithuanian natives who came to this country about four decades ago.
Mr. Pilius, 37, was found dead Friday in the basement of a vacant East Baltimore rowhouse. He had been choked with a belt and beaten with a 5-foot metal pipe, police say.
The two teen-agers charged in his slaying are Dontay Carter, 18, of no fixed address, and Charles H. Woodward, 16, of Baltimore.
Carter also has been charged with the kidnapping a jeweler on Friday, and he and two other teen-agers are charged in the Feb. 7 kidnapping of a doctor from a Johns Hopkins Hospital garage.
"We're outraged that somebody could do this," said Ed Budelis, speaking about the Pilius abduction and slaying.
Police say the abductors used the victim's bank and credit cards in a spending spree.
Mr. Budelis is a member of the board of directors at the Lithuanian Hall in the city. His son, Andrew, played volleyball with Mr. Pilius, who lived in Catonsville.
Mr. Budelis and others said they could not understand how the abductors were able use Mr. Pilius' bank and credit cards to make purchases totaling thousands of dollars before being caught.
"That leaves a lot of questions," Mr. Budelis said.
More than 300 people packed the church for yesterday's Mass. They sat among about a dozen massive marble columns that rose like great oaks 30 feet to the ceiling. The columns seemed to be symbols of the strength of ties within the Lithuanian community.
"We stand in faith and solidarity with you," the Rev. Nicholas Amato told those gathered in the church. "We know that we are losing part of ourselves. Our profound sadness comes from senselessness and violence."
During the service, five elderly men and a younger woman sang somber songs in Lithuanian from the church's balcony. Their voices, accompanied by organ, resonated through the church as they sang "Let Me Go, Mary," "Christ Our King" and "Mary, Mary."
The three traditional Lithuanian hymns are sung in churches and at graveside, said one of the singers, Albin Prasciunas, an uncle of Mr. Pilius.
Mr. Amato, who used to live next to Mr. Pilius on Stricker Street in the city, spoke of the victim's commitment to his family, friends and the children he coached.
"This was a man who never tired of saying 'I love you' to his wife, his children," he said.
Mr. Pilius' wife, Aldona, wearing a red coat and red hat, sat in the front row with her four sons -- Tomas, 8, Darius, 6, and 3-year-old twins Vitas and Jonas.
At one point during the service, one of the older sons placed two white lilies on his father's casket, which was draped in a snow-white cloth.
Mrs. Pilius spoke briefly and softly at the end of the service. Earlier, she had told Mr. Amato that she was "at peace" with herself, knowing that God would take care of her husband.
"He lives on in your lives," Mrs. Pilius told those in the church.