Mirwais Sabit, 9, and his 10-year-old brother, Aria, loved to dive and splash in the shallow end of the pool at the South Arlington apartment complex where their family lives.
On Memorial Day, the two boys, neither of whom could swim -- there are few swimming pools in their native Afghanistan -- slipped away from their mother and dove into the middle of the pool, about five feet deep. Moments later they were pulled from the pool and rushed to Arlington Hospital, then transferred to Georgetown University Hospital.
Yesterday, Aria returned to the family's Park Shirlington apartment, fully recovered from his experience, but alone. His brother, Mirwais, died Wednesday night at the hospital.
Yesterday, the Sabit family grieved in their small, well-kept apartment. Receiving a steady stream of visitors, family members vowed they would leave their home for another because of the memories there.
"We escaped from the communists to be safe," said the boys' father, Abdul Sabit, a translator and broadcaster for the Voice of America. "But there's not safety here . . . . Nobody knows except God what is going on in our heart."
The Sabit family was just beginning to adjust to life here.
Abdul Sabit, previously a legal adviser to the Afghani Ministry of Justice, escaped with the family across the mountains into Pakistan in 1980. The two boys, then 4 and 5, walked or rode a mule for five days on the trek. The Sabits then lived in Peshawar, Pakistan, where Abdul was a university professor and a legal adviser to the Afghan resistance movement. They moved to Arlington last May.
Pam Salmon, who taught Mirwais in his special English class at Abingdon Elementary School, said the third-grader was "a very gifted child."
"He was exceptional," Salmon said. "He learned more rapidly than other children . . . . He loved it in this country. He was a spot of bright light. The children are quite devastated by this."
Sabera Sabit, the boys' mother, adjusted her long white mourning veil yesterday and said that the family had an absolute ban on swimming without supervision.
"They told me, 'We want to go to the pool,' " she said. "But I said, 'Wait until I finish here.' I took their towels and swimming suits from them, and I hid the pool passes . . . . After a while the big one came home and searched for something, I didn't know what."
Family members said they are not certain what happened then. Aria has told them that the two jumped in the water and that his younger brother did not come up. Aria screamed for help, but no one heard him, he said. The older boy then dove underwater to try to help his brother, the family said.
Lifeguard Mark Noah later pulled both of them from the pool, Arlington fire officials said. Mike Johnston, a Marine Corps staff sergeant, performed resuscitation on Aria when he was taken from the water.
Sabera Sabit said yesterday that her sons, while adjusting to life in America, never lost their love for their native land. "They said when they finished their studies here, they want to go back and fight the Russians," she said. "We love, more than anything, Afghanistan."