Natashia Parker, right, and Neil Spillane, both of whom referred to Donald Giusti as an adopted brother, grill hamburgers at a vigil and cookout Thursday afternoon at Kennedy Park in Lewiston. (Andree Kehn/Sun Journal)
LEWISTON — It was generally agreed among those who knew him that Donny Giusti would have loved it.
More than 200 people gathered Thursday afternoon at the edge of Kennedy Park for an event that was half vigil, half plain old barbecue.
“This is what he loved to do in the summertime,” said Jim Thompson, Giusti’s uncle. “He loved to barbecue with all his friends and family around.”
And they were around, all right. His father, his cousins, his nephews and nieces — and a whole bunch of people who thought of Giusti as a street brother.
“Oh, he would have been super stoked to see all these people out here,” said Lynnea Hawkins, who met Giusti 16 years ago at Hope Haven. “He would have loved this.”
Giusti died last week as the result of injuries suffered when two groups of people took to fighting. According to his family, it has been a nonstop blitz of police interviews, media questions and public debates since the night of the fight.
“We haven’t really had a chance to grieve yet,” Thompson said. “This is a good sendoff for Donny, and it’s a good way for his family to memorialize him.”
Starting at about 3 p.m., the Pine Street edge of the park was dotted with dozens of yellow balloons. In addition, roughly half the people who turned out for the barbecue wore yellow T-shirts.
Longtime friend Nicholas Vinciguerra suggested it was because Giusti was a Boston Bruins fan, and the colors were similar to the team’s black-and-gold uniforms. Others said yellow was Giusti’s favorite color because he was a fan of Daffy Duck.
A photo board was set up near the grill on which burgers and hot dogs sizzled. In the photos, Giusti could be seen posing, with friends, with children, with various people he had met at a variety of places.
“Everybody knew Donny one way or another,” Hawkins said.
One woman said she met Giusti while donating blood. Others met him right there at Kennedy Park. Giusti, most agreed, was different things to different people.
“He had his street persona,” Thompson said. “They knew one version of Donny, we knew another.”
Ralph Chapman said he knew a version of Giusti that was kind and protective of his friends.
A few years ago, said Chapman, who suffers from a mental disability, he was on Walnut Street when a group of young men descended on him for no reason.
“Donny was there and he stepped right up to protect me,” Chapman said. “He told those punks that I wasn’t to be touched and they listened to him. He saved me from a beating or whatever else they meant to do to me. He didn’t even really know me, but he didn’t hesitate to help me. He was that kind of guy.”
For the most part, the gathering was just an easygoing barbecue with chicken and ribs and bratwurst. There was very little political talk as children played in the grass and music blasted from stereo speakers.
But there was no avoiding the matter altogether: Giusti died, witnesses say, because ongoing tensions between groups in the downtown had finally boiled over.
“What happened to Donny, nobody deserves that,” Thompson said. “That kind of thing shouldn’t happen to any human being. The violence has to stop. We don’t want to see some other family having to go through what we’ve gone through. We have to pull through as a community because we all have to live in these neighborhoods together.
“I don’t know if what we’re doing out here today will help things. But it’s a start.”
The family plans to hold a service for Giusti on Sunday. The Thursday afternoon event was meant to be less formal. A time for friends and family to say goodbye in a way that was in keeping with the life that Giusti lived.
“Donny’s gone home,” Thompson said. “He had a lot of different homes throughout his life. Now he’s gone someplace he can call home for good.”