Michael Wilson and Janon Fisher - NEW YORK - At Jamaica Hospital Medical Center on Thursday, a woman gave birth to a son, delivered by Caesarean section. She did not know that during her recovery, elsewhere in the same hospital, she lost her oldest child, a 19-year-old deli worker who had been shot behind the counter by a man in a mask.
The 19-year-old man, Yaser Saleh, was shot in the stomach on Wednesday night in a Springfield Gardens deli by an unidentified man who witnesses believe argued with Saleh last week over something that seemed trivial: the man had been short a quarter for a 79-cent candle, and the cashier would not give it to him.
There was no arrest in the case on Thursday, while the dead man's family prepared for a week of traveling, literally, between a cradle and a grave. advertisement
Family members said his mother delivered her 7.5-pound baby boy, named Mohamed, at 5 a.m. It was her and her husband's fifth child. Yaser was the oldest, and there are a son and two daughters in between. The family was from Yemen.
After Saleh was shot, paramedics took him to Jamaica Hospital, where his mother was still recovering from the surgery. He lingered for 11 hours, dying one minute before 8 a.m., the police said.
On Wednesday night, the victim had been on the telephone with his grandfather, taking advantage of a quiet moment in the store, said another deli worker, Ali Abdul, who saw the shooting from behind the deli case where he was making a sandwich.
The gunman entered the Farmers Deli, at 142-01 Farmers Blvd., at 9:15 p.m., and shot Saleh once in the stomach and once in the left arm, the police said. The assailant was dressed all in white and wore a mask or a T-shirt to cover his face, witnesses said. He left, taking nothing, the police said.
"He didn't say nothing," Abdul said. "He didn't talk nothing."
Saleh's father, Abdo Saleh, retelling his son's account, said the dispute began last week when the man tried to buy the 3-inch candle but was 25 cents short. "He told me somebody came into the store, tried to buy a candle," Saleh said. The man became enraged and smashed the candle on the floor, he said. "He told him, 'I'm going to come back and shoot you.' " His son shrugged it off: "He didn't take it as a serious thing."
Later that day, the same man returned and stole a soda, Abdul said.
Yaser Saleh attended high school in Dearborn, Mich. He married in 2001 in the Yemeni town of Ibb, and returned to the United States. He had a 6-month-old daughter named Kamer, and his wife is two months pregnant with their second child. He planned to earn his GED and perhaps pursue a college degree, his family said.
On Wednesday night, after he was shot, Saleh called to Abdul. "Yaser said: 'You have to call the ambulance. You have to call the police,' " Abdul said. He tore off his friend's shirt and saw the bullet hole near his sternum, and what looked like an exit wound. "I see blood coming from his back," he said.
Faisal Hussan, 20, another worker in the store, said the gunman's features were further obscured by a white hood. "He just shot him," he said in Arabic on Thursday. "He just killed him." The victim's father said the police took videotapes from a surveillance camera in the store. The police said they have not identified a suspect.
A woman in the store, who said she was known in the neighborhood as "Mom," said Saleh was well-liked, even though he had not worked there long. He had taken the shift on Wednesday evening for another worker who was observing the Ramadan holiday. "He's a sweet kid," she said. "Whenever I came in, he'd say, 'Mom, I love you.' No one deserves to be killed like that."
Hector Chambers, who lives near the store, called Saleh "a pleasant, pleasing person," and added, "Him my peaceful brother."
The victim's father said his mother was still recovering from the surgery. "She had the baby, had an operation, and she lost her oldest son," he said Thursday. He did not mention his wife's name to reporters.
On Thursday afternoon, she remained in the hospital, oblivious, he said: "I don't want to tell her."