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Family, friends celebrate lives of church leaders killed at Jumbo’s restaurant

When Wilton Harris and Aljo Hamlin walked into Jumbo’s restaurant most mornings, they greeted those inside like family.

Then, they sipped coffee and discussed Scripture, and returned for lunch and sometimes dinner. They were an almost-daily presence in the half-century-old Liberty City restaurant until the day they died.

Family members and friends gathered Sunday afternoon in the restaurant at 7501 NW Seventh Ave. to remember their lives with jubilant gospel songs and copious plates of fried foods.

“We are not at a funeral memorial,” said the Rev. Dr. James Bush III, his voice projecting into the murmur of the crowd of about 50. “We are at a celebration.”

Harris, 61, a pastor at St. Barnabas William Church, and Hamlin, 63, a deacon at Greater Peace Missionary Baptist Church, died June 30 after a car crashed into them as they stood in Jumbo’s parking lot after a meal. They had just returned from the burial of a fellow Jumbo’s customer.

The driver, Antonio Lawrence, was charged with two counts of DUI manslaughter.

The crash was one of a series of crashes that weekend that killed seven people.

In Little Havana, a minivan struck members of a visiting Georgia family as they left a Miami Marlins game. Esther Terrero De Diaz, 53; Franklin Abraham Diaz, 14; Adriana Maria Diaz, 13; and the driver, Raul Herberto Ortega, 67, were killed.

Within the same 24-hour period, a Nissan spun out of control and slammed into a pole in Pembroke Pines, splitting the car and ejecting a 22-year-old passenger, identified as Alexis Eduardo Gutierrez, who died.

Harris’ family buried him Saturday in his pastoral robes. As Hamlin’s family makes plans to bury him, questions linger, but they say faith and their community will show them the way.

“That’s the devastating part of everything,” said his daughter Anita Gray, of Brunswick, Ga. “We’re just trying to make sense of a senseless murder. It’s going to take a lot of prayers.”

With the Hamlin family in the seats of honor, pastors and gospel singers stood on a makeshift stage at the back of Jumbo’s. Singers belted out songs, lifting their heads high and stretching their arms toward the family members.

Patricia Williams, Hamlin’s widow, said just about everything reminds her of Hamlin, but the soulful songs especially brought back the memories. She said Hamlin loved to sing, loved to talk about God and loved his flock of grandchildren.

Hamlin, who was known for buying bulk packs of Danishes, loved Jumbo’s food, which ranges from $3.74 cheeseburger combos to fried chicken, fried oysters and fried shrimp.

Harris was often seen at Jumbo’s on Saturdays to fine-tune his Sunday sermons. On Father’s Day, he preached one of his last sermons, which celebrated unsung heroes.

“The enthusiasm he projected for his fellow man and his religion was beautiful,” said Jumbo’s owner Bobby Flam, who saw Harris preach when he gave an invocation at the restaurant.

Both men were Jumbo’s customers for about 40 years, and were known throughout the community for their character, integrity and optimism against all odds, Flam said.

“Those men were the kind of guys you would like to sit down and have a cup of coffee with,” he said.

“They were optimistic about family, about life, about making the world a better place.”

Visitation for Aljo Hamlin is scheduled for 5 to 9 p.m. Friday at the Grace Funeral Home, 770 NW 119th St. The funeral will be held at 11 a.m. Saturday at Mount Vernon Missionary Baptist Church, 1323 NW 54th St.