'An all-around great kid': Sailor killed in Pensacola shooting remembered for kindness, athleticism and big smile
By CRAIG PITTMAN | Tampa Bay Times | Published: December 9, 2019
ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — At Lakewood High School, everyone called him “Mo.” Mohammed Haitham was a track and field star there, known for his long legs, big smile and good high jump scores.
After graduating in 2018 he joined the U.S. Navy. He went through boot camp and recently was assigned to flight crew training in Florida. When he surprised his family in St. Petersburg by showing up for Thanksgiving, the 19-year-old didn’t look like a teenager any more.
“He looked like a man all of a sudden,” said Kim Walker, a longtime family friend.
Now Haitham is dead, one of the victims of Friday’s mass shooting at the Naval Air Station Pensacola, according to his mother, Evelyn Brady, and to Lakewood High School principal Erin Savage.
“The commander of his school did call me,” said his mother, herself a Navy veteran who now works for the Veterans’ Administration. “He told me my son did try to stop the shooter.”
He was, she said, “an old soul,” often serenading her with Sam Cooke’s posthumous hit "A Change Is Gonna Come." He was a popular boy at school. As the word spread Saturday about what happened, his many friends from Lakewood posted numerous testimonials to him on social media.
“He was an all-around great kid,” said Lakewood journalism teacher Kathleen Ovack Tobin, a former Times reporter. “He was so nice, and a super athlete.”
The shooting occurred Friday morning when an aviation student from Saudi Arabia opened fire in a classroom and killed three people, wounding another eight. The shooting, which prompted a massive law enforcement response and base lockdown, ended when a sheriff’s deputy killed the shooter.
Investigators are also trying to establish whether the killer, 2nd Lt. Mohammed Alshamrani, 21, of the Royal Saudi Air Force, acted alone or was part of a larger plot.
The Pensacola News Journal identified another victim as Joshua Kaleb Watson. He reported to the Pensacola base just two weeks ago and dreamed of being a Navy pilot. He was shot multiple times but was able to tell deputies where the shooter was before he died.
When Haitham paid his surprise visit to his family last month, his mother said, he talked about how much he enjoyed serving in the Navy, and how he was looking forward to graduating from the flight school program Dec. 19.
“He said he was going to get his flight jacket for Christmas,” she said. “Now that’s not going to happen.”
Times senior news researcher Caryn Baird contributed to this report.