Austin immigrant killed in August stood as pillar of Haitian community


Christian Daniel was killed while visiting his mother in Haiti on Aug. 13, according to family members.

Daniel’s friends and family said he would pitch in to help neighbors and never asked for anything in return.

In the 24 years Christian Daniel lived in the United States, he never lost the love and pride he felt for his native country of Haiti.

In his home in Northeast Austin off Rundberg Lane, a large Haitian flag greets anyone who comes through the front door, and two others are posted on a piece of art hanging in the living room.

On Wednesday, Christian’s 14-year-old daughter and 20-year-old son flipped through pictures that showed their father at his wedding, in body-building competitions and proudly posing for photos at graduations.

“He went back very frequently,” said Daniel’s son, Don. “He loved Haiti.”

Christian’s latest trip to Haiti was Aug. 13. He planned to visit his mother and wanted to throw a barbecue for friends and family there. However, shortly after landing, unknown attackers ambushed and killed him, family members said.

“It’s like as soon as he got there, walking from the airport, he was murdered. Somebody knew he was coming, didn’t like the fact that he had accumulated a lot of things in America, and they killed him,” said Vanessa Bissereth, Daniel’s niece. “That’s just how Haiti is, and somebody set him up.”

Daniel, 65, left Haiti for the United States in 1994. He had since become an American citizen and an important part of his community of immigrants.

He worked for the Westminster, a senior living facility near West Austin, for more than 20 years, but worked even harder to provide for his family, neighbors, and other immigrants and refugees — many of whom saw him as sort of mayor.

“The Haitian community in Austin, Christian was the center of it,” said Jean Claude Germain, a close friend of Daniel. “Wherever you came from, he made sure you were OK. Christian’s house was always open to everybody.”

Christian pitched in to help neighbors repair their houses, get jobs or even drive their kids to school, and he never asked for anything in return.

In Austin’s tight-knit Haitian community, Daniel’s reputation always preceded him. He was well-liked, humble and always had a great attitude, said Peter Bellisario, who knew Daniel through family friends.

When David Joseph, the son of a Haitian immigrant, was fatally shot by Austin police in 2015, Daniel went to work to provide for their family, including mending a fence for Joseph’s mother and offering other kinds of help where he could.

“Someone with his legacy and goodwill, it’s just not the way for him to go,” Bellisario said.

Ketty Sully, David Joseph’s mother, said Christian was like a father to her kids, and he always stood up for his neighbors.

“I pray for Christian to have justice. Every day, that’s what I’m doing, just like I want justice for David,” she said.

Don, now is his third year studying economics at the University of Texas, said even people who had met his father only one time felt the loss. Many of them came by their house to give their condolences.

“Even though he’s gone, the influence he had and love he had reached a lot of people,” he said. “He’s changed the lives of people here in Austin and in Haiti for the better.”

A U.S. State Department official confirmed that authorities are aware of reports of the death of an American citizen in Haiti.

“We are providing all appropriate assistance to the family and offer them our sincerest condolences on their loss,” officials said.

In addition to his children, Daniel also left behind his wife, Vesta.

The family is now working to bring Daniel’s body back to the United States.

Bissereth started a GoFundMe page to help pay for returning Daniel’s body and other funeral expenses.

By Friday evening, the page had received more than $10,800 of its $25,000 goal.

“This is an opportunity for everyone who has ever had a Christian (Daniel) in their life,” Bissereth said. “If there is a Christian that you know, this community just lost theirs.”

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