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Her father slain, girl thrust into adulthood

The bullet that killed corner store owner Lutf Myheeb Saeed last November tore a hole in the heart of his family -- and cost his 14-year-old daughter her childhood.

Mayada Saeed told State Supreme Court Justice Timothy J. Drury that she has had to assume parental responsibilities. Her mother suffers from crippling arthritis and does not speak English.

"He was my leader, my role model and my father," Mayada, the oldest of three children, told the court as a dozen family members looked on. "We lost the person to teach us good or bad. . . . After him, we have no one else."

"I can't begin to understand the suffering . . . that your family is going through," Drury said.

Wednesday, the judge sentenced Saeed's killer, 16-year-old Robert L. Gwynn Jr., to 11 years to life in prison. On April 9, Gwynn pleaded guilty to second-degree murder and first-degree robbery.

"From the bottom of my heart, I'm sorry," Gwynn told the court just before sentencing. "I've never been the type of person to hurt anybody. I'm just sorry -- I never meant to kill anybody."

Gwynn, who completed 10th grade, was prosecuted as a juvenile offender. He will be eligible for parole at age 27.

Saeed, 38, the owner of Myheeb's Deli at Fillmore and Rodney avenues in the Fillmore-Leroy neighborhood, was shot in the chest at 10:15 a.m. Nov. 15 during an armed robbery by Gwynn, then 15, and an unidentified 13-year-old boy, who is being prosecuted in Family Court. Although the store owner offered no resistance, he was killed before the bandits fled with $50 from the cash register.

The store, next to the family's white house, continues to operate through the help of family members and friends.

By all accounts, Saeed, a Yemeni immigrant known in the neighborhood as "Mike," was a good and friendly man who took care of his family, helped out in the community and tried to do the right thing.

In addition to being the father of three, he helped support five sisters and a brother in Yemen.

Saeed frequently donated hundreds of freeze pops, ice and other supplies to the Rodney Avenue Block Club, where he was active. He paid people in the neighborhood without jobs to clean his sidewalk and made donations for needy children to FATHERS, an anti-violence group.

"I knew Mike. He was a very friendly man, a very open and honest man," said Donell Lee of Vernon Place. "He cared about the people in the community."

Abdulla Ziad was working at Aheeb's on Wednesday, operating behind bulletproof glass that Saeed bought years earlier but never installed.

"He was a very kind man. He liked helping people, the community, the cops," Ziad said. "He had no problems [with anybody]. They all loved him."

Calling it "the saddest case I've seen," defense attorney John R. Nuchereno said he found Gwynn to be "polite, articulate and respectful -- everything I did not expect to see, quite frankly."

He said Gwynn -- a merit roll student at Pfc. William J. Grabiarz School of Excellence, with no prior criminal record -- was deeply remorseful. "In my 30 years, I've never had a family that was so warm, so supportive," he said. "Everyone is a victim here. I think about the Gwynn family's empathy for the [Saeed] family and how their pride and joy is a murderer."

David Annisfee, Saeed's brother-in-law, came up from New York City to be with the family for the sentencing. He reflected on how one careless act had brought such sadness to so many, across two countries.

"[Being in court] brought up a lot of memories today," Annisfee said. "It's ridiculous. The killer is 15 years old, and he made a whole family shatter its life.

"Life is very valuable. To take somebody else's life is very, very hard."

e-mail: msommer@buffnews.com

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