When 10-year-old Aaron Vu is buried Monday he will take with him some of his favorite things: a Street Fighter action figure, Beats by Dre headphones, Abercrombie & Fitch cologne and the cardboard center of a paper towel roll, which he used to do art projects with his siblings.
Aaron, killed Nov. 22 in a brazen robbery at his parents’ Northwest Miami-Dade nail salon, was remembered Sunday night at a public viewing at Northwest Baptist Church, where he went to school. His father, who was also shot during the robbery, left the hospital to attend the memorial service.
“With everyone here sharing our pain and sorrow it helps us,” Hai Nam Vu, whose arm is in a sling, said after the emotional service that included prayers, songs and a collection to help the family. “I just want to thank everyone for coming here.”
Aaron lay in a hunter green casket, holding a red rosary and dressed in the blue button-down shirt and beige pants he picked out to wear on his 10th birthday Nov. 6. His mother added a vest to the ensemble because Aaron liked vests.
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“It doesn’t look like him,” said Aaron’s great aunt Thi Pham, as she sobbed. “He’s sleeping; we can find comfort in that.”
When Aaron’s parents arrived at the church Sunday, friends, family and even some strangers lined up to hug and express their sympathy to the family. Aaron’s mom, Lynn Ma, broke down with each hug.
Hai Nam Vu lifted himself from the church pew and hugged each person.
Longtime nail salon customer and friend Mirna Brooks said the community feels the Vu’s pain and has come together to help them remember their son.
“They are like family to us,” said Brooks, who struggled to walk to the front of the church to say goodbye to Aaron. “We need to be there for them during this difficult time.”
As people paid their respects, photographs of Aaron and the family flashed on a giant screen: there was a smiling Aaron, with his arm around his little sister sitting on the stairs, there was a family picture with Lilo and Stitch, there was Aaron covered in white foam as he soaked in a bubble bath.
Ten days ago, life changed forever for the Vus when gunmen burst into Hong Kong Nails salon at 14832 NW Seventh Ave. and grabbed purses and other items from customers and employees. On the way out the door, one of men fire twice inside the business, striking Aaron and his father.
Police have since arrested Anthawn Ragan, 19, on first-degree murder charges. Police launched a massive manhunt after the boy’s death. A $25,000 reward was offered for information leading to a suspect by Crime Stoppers. Ragan was arrested four days later at his sister’s duplex. He is being held without bond.
Police are still searching for the second suspect, who unlike Ragan covered his face with a red shirt and was not captured on surveillance video.
But Pham said the family has tried to forget about the criminal case and focus instead on celebrating Aaron’s life.
Northwest Christian Academy’s headmaster Jerry Nelson described Aaron as an outgoing boy who played trombone and had the role of a wise man in the school’s Christmas play last year. He was also in the after-school karate program.
“It was a privilege to know Aaron,” Nelson said. “His life clearly touched so many people.”
One of Aaron’s teachers in the after-school program, Crystal Ramsey, came to remember Aaron, who always sat next to her and recently drew pictures for a Christian children’s book she is writing. His work featured stuffed animal angels.
“How ironic,” she said. “He is our angel now.”
Sitting in the front row, surrounded by extended family, Aaron’s mother, father, sister and brother held on to each other, each breaking out in loud sobs from time to time.
As Hai Nam Vu was wheeled out of the church, he touched the angel on the side of his son’s casket, covered his face and cried.
Aaron’s funeral will be at 11 a.m. Monday at St. Mark’s Roman Catholic Church, 5601 S. Flamingo Rd. in Southwest Ranches.
For information, visit www.fredhunters.com.