Estranged family reunites for son's burial

Nabil Saleh, 19, died in senseless club stabbing Grief-stricken brother greets absentee father
Thursday, November 14, 2013

It's Christmas and the arrivals gate at Pearson's new Terminal One was packed last night, full of the sounds of joyous reunions and seasonal good cheer. There were shouts, laughter and the squeals of children, overexcited and up way past their bedtimes.

But Celin Castro's reunion with the father who hasn't held him since he was a baby was not a time for joy. Instead, the 18-year- old stood sombrely, waiting and holding out a little, hand-printed sign that said, "Nabil Saleh."

It's his father's name, and also the name of his beloved brother, a year older, who was murdered on Dec. 11 at a College St. club, stabbed through the heart when he came to the defence of a friend who was involved in a quarrel.

He'd come to celebrate the launch of his pals' hip-hop CD and was left lying, mortally wounded, on the dance floor.

And so, last night, instead of seeing his brother off on his planned trip to Panama City for Christmas to see their father for the first time in 11 years, Celin was at the airport, waiting for his father to arrive for a funeral. He hoped he would recognize him from photographs.

"This is the last time he is going to see his son," Celin said. "And, it was my brother's last wish to see our father, so I am glad he is coming."

He looked achingly young, with a goatee struggling to take root on his chin and a sliver of a moustache. He wore a black silk tie and his best dark suit and, as he talked, kept his eyes glued on arriving passengers, hoping to spot his father and his uncle Jorge.

His mother, Yadira Castro, first heard that something terrible might have happened to her son by listening to messages on her answering machine that night. One guy left a message, "Hey, Nabil, people are saying you got killed. I hope it's a joke. Call me."

She frantically called around and, finally, learned that her eldest boy was dead.

She came to Canada as a refugee from civil war in Nicaragua in 1988, able to bring baby Celin, but leaving Nabil behind with his father. She fought with her estranged husband for custody for five years, succeeding in October, 1993.

She wanted to give Nabil a better life in Canada. She wanted to keep him safe from war.

"She thought he would have a future in Canada," said Sandra Gonzalez, a family friend who waited last night with Celin. "She worked two jobs to give him that future. She is an amazing person, so kind to everybody."

It took almost a week for Nabil Saleh to get a three-day visitor's visa from officials in Guatemala City, the closest Canadian embassy to Panama. He did it with the help of Toronto immigration consultant Maureen Elizondo, who stepped in to help the family after Yadira Castro called and faxed last week, without success.

Celin is angry at the delay by officials, saying "they were very hard to reach, and they basically showed us that they didn't care. They kept telling us to call back and I think that's terrible. I wish they were in our shoes, then they would see how much it hurts. God forbid that it happens to anyone else, but imagine what it was like."

He says his brother's face has changed during the long wait for burial.

"I know it's my brother lying there, but I can barely recognize him. We are so upset."

Consultant Elizondo, who was at the airport to help if she was needed last night, said Canadian officials are generally very good in Guatemala City. She believes the request got lost in the Christmas season.

"But that poor woman, she's been waiting at the funeral home since Dec. 11," she said. "She waited to bury him because she knows Nabil would have wanted his father there."

Last night, Celin paced for 90 minutes for his father to clear immigration after his plane touched down.

"I loved him to death," he said, of the brother he calls the "best brother, the best son, the best friend anybody could have."

It was hard for him last night. Not only was he grieving his brother's murder, he had mixed emotions about seeing his father. (Celin uses his mother's surname while his brother retained their father's.)

"I would love to know why he wasn't here for us before, and why he didn't visit," he said. "I don't want to put my dad down, but it's true, he wasn't here for us. If he had been here, maybe none of this would have happened.

Nabil worked at No Frills. He was putting himself through Seneca College, with the dream of becoming a Toronto firefighter. He is described by everyone, even the homicide detective investigating his case, as a terrific human being. Still, witnesses have not stepped forward to help police arrest his killer.

"This was a young man that every parent would be proud of," Sergeant Kari Giedroyc told the Star last week. "He stepped up to the plate to help someone, and now we are asking people to step forward for him."

"Step forward and say something, please," said Celin. "Help us. If they don't catch these guys, they are going to do it again."

He said his mother has forbidden him to go to clubs, terrified the same thing will happen to him. He said the moral of this story is "Pick your friends. Don't go to places unless you are accompanied by people who really care about you."

Suddenly, at the airport last night, Elizondo let out a cry.

"There, there, that must be him. He looks just like your brother," she said, and Celin looked up to see a short man, with graying hair and a blue jacket, walking toward them. It was Nabil Saleh, along with his brother, their uncle Jorge.

"Only God knows the pain we feel," said Jorge Saleh, as he reached out to embrace his nephew.

"Go to your father," he said softly.

The two eyed each other, then Nabil Saleh put out his hand.

"Mucho gusto," he said to his long-lost son.

"A pleasure."

They hugged stiffly, and headed out for the short drive to a Mississauga funeral home where Saleh would see his son at last, laid out in a coffin.

He was 'the best brother, the best son, the best friend anybody could have'

Peter Power toronto star Celin Castro, 18, right, brother of Nabil Saleh, 19, who was stabbed to death during a CD release party Dec. 11, greets his father, Nabil Saleh, at Pearson International Airport last night. Celin had not seen his father since he was an infant. His brother had planned a trip to Panama City to see his father.

Credit: Toronto Star



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