Khaled Heeba fled the most dangerous place on earth in 2016, escaping Syria’s civil war with his parents to come to the United States for a better life. He settled in Baltimore.
He went to work delivering pizzas full time to help support himself and his parents, his co-workers and a family friend said.
Heeba’s American journey ended less than two weeks ago when someone gunned him down in broad daylight in Harlem Park — less than five minutes from the pizza shop where he’d worked since he got to Baltimore. The 31-year-old man was found in the 1300 block of W. Franklin St. around 1:15 p.m. Feb. 7 suffering from gunshot wounds to the chest. He died after being transported to a nearby hospital, police said.
“He left his own country because it was a war zone in Syria, just for him to end up getting murdered here,” said Theresa Birmingham, a co-worker. “He was just really a sweet guy. It’s been 10 days [since his killing] and I still expect to see him walk in through the door."
Birminghan and Vicky Bailey said their friend and co-worker “was always a good person.”
Police have made no arrests in the case, though the department released a video Tuesday afternoon of a potential suspect. The department is asking for the public’s help to identify the man who is about 5 feet 9, dressed in black with a “slim build” and was seen running from the area around the time of the killing.
According to Human Rights Watch 2016 annual report, Syrians like Heeba were caught in the middle of a violent conflict between ISIS, offshoots of Al-Queda and the Syrian government. The groups were “responsible for systematic and widespread violations, including targeting civilians, kidnappings, and executions.”
By the time their family was welcomed to the United States as refugees, more than 250,000 Syrians had been killed, nearly a million were under siege and millions more had fled or become displaced, according to Human Rights Watch.
The family landed in Maryland and quickly acclimated, according to co-workers and a family friend.
Birmingham and Bailey said Heeba’s delivery hours fluctuated. He sometimes worked many hours during the day or at other times worked night delivery shifts, they said.
They fondly remembered how friendly he was, and how quick Heeba was to help his co-workers with whatever they needed.
Now, every Friday the business releases one balloon in the air in memory of Heeba, Birmingham said.
“He was real tall, so he could always reach stuff for me in here that I could not get to,” Bailey said. “He always was cheerful, always said good morning and would take you home at night if you just needed a ride."
Heeba was on his last delivery route of the day, going along West Franklin Street before he was gunned down on the sidewalk. Heeba was planning to attend Friday prayer later that evening.
Heeba’s family is collecting funds after his killing to honor his life by helping other Syrian refugees through LaunchGood, a crowdfunding platform tailored to members of the Muslim community.
Officers found Heeba suffering from a gunshot wound to the chest, and believe he was shot outside Yun’s grocery store, as blood stained the sidewalk just a few steps from the doorway.
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As of Monday, there have been 43 homicides in Baltimore city — that is 11 more killings than there were at this time last year, which saw 32 killings, according to Baltimore police data.
* This article has been updated. A previous version referred to a sister of the victim. The woman was actually a family friend who misidentified herself; she also identified herself as a university professor, but she had left that position two months ago.