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October 20, 2014

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Police shooting aftermath:

Close-knit community offers comfort

Image

Leila Navidi

Zyber Selimaj stands next to his wife’s coffin Thursday during the memorial service for Deshira Selimaj at the Islamic Society of Nevada in Las Vegas. Selimaj was shot and killed by a Henderson police officer at a traffic stop.

Deshira Selimaj funeral

Zyber Selimaj stands next to his wife's coffin during the memorial service for Deshira Selimaj at the Islamic Society of Nevada in Las Vegas Thursday, Feburary 28, 2008. Deshira Selimaj was shot and killed by a Henderson police officer at the scene of a traffic stop near Coronado High School in Henderson. Launch slideshow »

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  • Zyber Selimaj, Deshira Selimaj's husband, talks (in Albanian) about the destruction of his family. Audio translation by Fisnik Bojku.

Audio Clip

  • Luzi on the circumstances surrounding his sister's death.

Audio Clip

  • Flamur Luzi, Deshira's brother, on the effect the shooting will have on his nephews.

The funeral service for Deshira Selimaj was spare — a wooden casket facing folding chairs, a few wreaths of flowers and her remaining family: three boys and their father, their crying buried by a tinny recording of Islamic prayers.

Friends of Selimaj’s wept in the audience, which was almost entirely Albanian, like the Selimaj family. The 50 or so guests were people who knew Deshira or knew of her — part of the network of Albanians in the valley who come together anytime something serious happens to one of their own.

But nothing this serious has brought them together before, they said.

And if it hadn’t been a Thursday, if everybody who wanted to come could have gotten the day off, guests said, attendance would have grown to at least 200 for the funeral following the 42-year-old woman’s highly publicized and controversial death.

Selimaj was shot Feb. 12 by a 23-year-old Henderson Police officer, an Iraq war veteran. Depending on whom you ask, she was an innocent mother gunned down in front of her children and husband, or a dangerous woman wielding a knife who was shot only after she tried to attack a cop.

Henderson Police Chief Richard Perkins insists his officer was justified in pulling the trigger. The people who gathered at the Islamic Society of Nevada for Selimaj’s service expressed a different view. Namely, that Selimaj was murdered.

She left behind three boys: Alban, Azbi and Arber, ages 11, 7 and 5, respectively. As news cameras clicked, the boys stood facing the casket with their father, until Azbi began to look faint and was called into the audience by a group of mothers, who scooped him up and forced cookies and caramels on him until he looked less yellow.

Makbule Dapi, a friend of Deshira’s for 14 years, explained that Azbi felt he might pass out. Soon, Azbi and his brothers were escorted by an aunt, who herded them outside into the parking lot, where the funeral procession would eventually line up, lights on in the middle of the day, headed to a North Las Vegas cemetery.

Before this could happen, though, the family had to finish the ceremony, and the guests had to give their condolences, and the imam had to tell the audience, “Death is not the destruction of human beings, it is the movement from one world to another world.”

Deshira’s husband stared blankly forward.

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