Family of four, economics student, police chief's mother among Florida condo victims

·7 min read
FILE PHOTO: Partial collapse of residential building in Surfside

(Reuters) - Authorities have listed 18 casualties of the Florida condominium collapse as of Thursday, 16 of whom have been identified, while 145 people were still missing.

Those recovered from the rubble in the oceanside town of Surfside and identified by police included the wife and two young daughters of a sales manager whose body was already found, the mother of a local police chief, a Costa Rica-born accountant and a young Puerto Rican graphic artist who refused to let a disability dampen his spirits.

Here are brief profiles of the 16 identified victims:

MARCUS, ANA, LUCIA AND EMMA GUARA

Marcus Guara, 52, had just started a new job in November as regional sales manager at Kassatex New York, a maker of towels, linens and other textiles, according to his social media posts. He had held a series of sales jobs since graduating from the University of Miami in 1990, he reported on LinkedIn. His Facebook account was dominated by family photos and fundraiser posts for charities, mostly the ALS Association and St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital.

Late on Wednesday, police said they had found his wife Ana Guara, 42, and their daughters, Lucia, 10, and Emma, 4.

Last November, Marcus wrote on Facebook that his “pride was overwhelming” when Lucia asked him to mail a letter to St. Jude Hospital stuffed with her piggy bank savings because “they need it more than I do.”

Mike Spring, a college friend and rowing teammate, remembered Marcus as having a magnetic personality. "I can’t remember a time when he was mean-spirited, he was always the type of person who was trying to be helpful and friendly and keeping it light," he told WPLG TV.

ANDREAS GIANNITSOPOULOS

An economics student at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Andreas Giannitsopoulos, 21, was a Texas native who happened to be visiting his father's best friend, Manuel LaFont, at the condo complex last week, his family told ABC News. LaFont's body was already found in the wreckage.

"To put it simply to know Andreas was to love Andreas," the family said in a statement to ABC. "He was kind, compassionate, dedicated, and loving. He put others first always and never hesitated to do so."

MANUEL LAFONT

Manuel LaFont, 54, was with his 10-year-old son on the baseball field almost every day. Those who knew the Little League coach, known as Manny, said he was devoted to helping kids become better players, according to People magazine. The father of two and business consultant was asleep when the building collapsed, his ex-wife, Adriana, told USA Today. She confirmed his death on Facebook, writing, “So many memories inside the walls that are no more today, forever engraved experiences in the heart! My manny, who was my partner for so many years, father of my children, who scolds me and loves me at the same time.”

HILDA NORIEGA

Hilda Noriega, 92, was the mother of Carlos Noriega, the police chief of nearby North Bay Village, an island community in Biscayne Bay. He had previously been police chief of Miami Beach.

“The Noriegas have lost the ‘heart and soul’ and ‘matriarch’ of their family, but will get through this time by embracing the unconditional love Hilda was known for,” the village said in a statement.

The chief told his family that when he arrived at the collapse site with other first responders last Thursday, he noticed an envelope and picked it up, WPLG TV reported. “On the outside, it was addressed to Hilda and the card had butterflies on it and it was a birthday card signed by her prayer group,” Sally Noriega, Hilda Noriega’s daughter-in-law, told the television station.

MICHAEL ALTMAN

Always smiling, Michael Altman, 50, was "a very loving guy" who moved to the United States from Costa Rica with his parents when he was about 4 years old, one of his two sons, Nicholas Altman, told the Miami Herald.

“He conquered a lot of obstacles in his life, and always came out on top,” Nicholas Altman said. “He always inspired my brother and I to be successful in life.”

An accountant with dual citizenship, Altman had lived in the Champlain Towers South building for more than six years in a unit that had been in the family since the 1980s, Nicholas Altman said.

LUIS ANDRES BERMUDEZ, ANA ORTIZ, FRANK KLEIMAN

Luis Andres Bermudez, a young graphic artist from Puerto Rico, was an inspiring example of courage who never let a disability keep him from his dreams or dampen his sunny disposition, a former teacher said. Andres Bermudez, 26, lived with his mother Ana Ortiz, 46, who also was identified as one of the casualties of the collapse.

"Luis Andres is an example of courage and bravery FOR ALL of us," said Jose J. Ortiz Carlo, a teacher who had Andres Bermudez in a photography class at Robinson School in Puerto Rico, where he graduated in 2014.

Despite being confined to a wheelchair because of muscular dystrophy, Andres Bermudez, known as Luiyo, never missed school and was always smiling, the teacher said on Facebook.

In 2018, he launched Saucy Boyz Clothing, a fashion line of T-shirts and caps with his artwork on them that he called "a dream come true for me" on social media.

The young man's father, Luis Didi Bermudez, who was separated from his mother and was not in the building when it collapsed, mourned his son, saying in a Facebook post translated from Spanish, "You are and will be the best in my life."

Alex Garcia, a close friend of Ortiz, told the Miami Herald that she had just recently married his friend, Frank Kleiman, 55, whom authorities also identified as a victim of the collapse. Ortiz was "a rock star" who was committed to giving her son the best possible life, Garcia said.

Kleiman and Garcia had just started running a shipping and mailbox rental company called Private Postal Systems, the Herald said. Kleiman's mother and brother also were missing in the collapse, it said. Garcia told the Herald he last saw Ana, Frankie and Luis last month at a Father’s Day party in nearby Boca Raton.

LEON OLIWKOWICZ AND CHRISTINA BEATRIZ ELVIRA

A couple identified by police as Leon Oliwkowicz, 80, and his wife, Christina Beatriz Elvira, 74, were both originally from Venezuela and were active in the Ultra Orthodox Chabad Lubavitch community, according to the COLlive.com, a news outlet that covers Chabad Lubavitch communities. In 2019, the couple donated a Torah scroll to Yeshivas Ohr Eliyahu - Lubavitch Mesivta of Chicago, a school where their daughter works as a secretary. Venezuelan journalist Shirley Varnagy, a friend of their daughter, said on Instagram that the couple were among six Venezuelans who lived in the building.

ANTONIO LOZANO AND GLADYS LOZANO

Antonio Lozano, 83, and Gladys Lozano, 79, would joke about who would die first because they did not want to live without each other, their son Sergio told Miami ABC affiliate WPLG. The couple would have celebrated their 59th anniversary on July 21, said Sergio, who had dinner with them hours before the deadly collapse in the early hours of Thursday. “Both were avid donators to non-profit organizations, especially to cancer since my grandmother lost her mother to the sickness," the couple's grandson, Brian, told ABC News in a statement. "Always providing for anyone who's in need or just to spark a smile on someone's face. Their souls were truly beautiful and are now blessed."

STACIE FANG

Stacie Fang, 54, was the mother of one of the few people known to have survived the collapse. Her son, Jonah Handler, 15, was pulled from the wreckage hours after the building fell.

Fang was vice president at a firm that puts on an annual event for customer relationship management, retail and marketing executives, according to her LinkedIn account. A former resident of New York City’s Staten Island, she was a graduate of New York’s Pace University. "There are no words to describe the tragic loss of our beloved Stacie," her family said in a statement.

(Reporting by Peter Szekely in New York and Linda So in Washington; Editing by Lisa Shumaker and Matthew Lewis)