Keep searching rubble for human remains, some Surfside families urge

·5 min read

Martin Langesfeld held up an envelope from the Miami-Dade County medical examiner’s office on Tuesday as he stood in front of the property once occupied by the Champlain Towers South condominium. Inside was a forensics report from July notifying the Langesfeld family about the recovery of the remains of Nicole Langesfeld, who died in the June 24 collapse of the Surfside building.

“We have a very, very, very small percentage of my sister,” Langesfeld said. “My father had to sign a release stating we have less than 50 percent.”

The search for more of Nicole’s remains, and for more of any remains of the 98 victims of the collapse should continue, and the rubble deposited at a lot in Doral should be combed through again, Langesfeld and other family members said during an emotional press conference as they urged the county not to dispose of the debris.

The county wants permission from the judge overseeing the Surfside class-action case to clear an outdoor lot and discard debris considered less important for the engineers investigating the cause of the collapse. That material is being stored in an indoor warehouse.

“Over the past several months the county, through the Miami-Dade police department, has carefully and thoroughly sifted through the rubble at the outdoor lot and is confident that all human remains and items of value have been recovered,” Michael Goldberg, court-appointed receiver for the condo association, wrote to Judge Michael Hanzman asking him to authorize disposal.

Monica Iken, founder of the September’s Mission foundation, holds a Miami Herald front page as she joins the Langesfeld family at the site of the Champlain Towers South condo collapse, asking that rubble be preserved and a memorial to the 98 victims be built.
Monica Iken, founder of the September’s Mission foundation, holds a Miami Herald front page as she joins the Langesfeld family at the site of the Champlain Towers South condo collapse, asking that rubble be preserved and a memorial to the 98 victims be built.

But disposal would be premature and insensitive, Langesfeld said. Although some families have been allowed to visit the site, his family is among those who have not had access.

“Why can’t I see where you have my sister? It is heartbreaking. It is inhumane,” Langesfeld said of Nicole, 26, a Miami lawyer and newlywed whose husband, Luis Sadovnic, 28, also died in the collapse. They were engaged on the beach and were living in her grandfather’s unit 804. “It is unbelievable that after 100 days Miami-Dade has decided to throw away human body parts. How is it possible that human bones, human fingers, human legs and human heads are being thrown away in the trash? This is not how you honor anyone.”

David Rodan, whose 28-year-old brother Moises and three cousins died in the collapse of the 13-story building in the middle of the night, said families are not ready to give up on the recovery process.

“It’s disgusting to think there are still human remains in there and they’re being disrespected and just thrown away because the county said they tried hard enough,” Rodan said. “Well, it’s not hard enough if they haven’t found all the pieces.”

Lisa Shrem, a rabbi from New York, came to Miami after the collapse and waited 33 days for best friend Estelle Hedaya to be recovered. Hedaya’s remains were the last to be identified; her forearm was found at the Doral lot.

“We are urging and demanding the county of Miami-Dade to search through the rubble in Doral one more time,” Shrem said. “The bodies are precious and sacred definitely in the Jewish religion and in all religions. We are demanding that the county not dispose of rubble until the investigation as to the cause of the collapse is entirely complete.”

In his motion to the judge, Goldberg said all interested parties will have access to the lot and a chance to raise objections to disposal. The county would also allow any interested party to “assume physical and legal custody at its own cost and expense any such rubble that party wishes to have preserved.”

Nicole Langesfeld’s father asked for support from local elected leaders in saving the rubble and in accelerating the pace of the investigation.

“Where are the politicians now? Where’s the dignity and respect?” he said. “There’s still human remains commingled. We’re here to stay. No matter how long this fight may take, we are the voice for our loved ones who died for no reason.”

The widow of a man who died in the terrorist attack on the World Trade Center in 2001 said not only should sifting of the rubble continue but that no new building should go up at 8777 Collins Avenue.

“People did not get full bodies. They got pieces of their loved ones,” said Monica Iken, whose husband Michael Patrick Iken died in Tower 2 on 9/11. Her nonprofit group September’s Mission assists disaster survivors and victims’ families. “When they imploded the building they went right into this site which they want to build on, which we don’t do. We didn’t do it after 9/11, we don’t do it in America. We feel the energy of their souls right here with us. We don’t build over our loved ones. We lost unborn children, husbands, wives and generations of families. We have to honor them.”

Langesfeld, Rodan and Shrem renewed calls for a memorial to be built at the Champlain South site instead of a new condo. The land is scheduled to be sold at auction in February as part of a plan to compensate condo owners whose units were destroyed and victims’ relatives. A Dubai developer has made a stalking horse bid of $120 million for the nearly 2-acre property.

“It’s going to be a disgrace in history and a stain on this city if a condo is built on top of where 98 people died,” Rodan said. “We’re asking the county, state and federal government to step in and help us secure this land to build a memorial.”

Rodan has proposed different options, including swapping the Champlain South land with the town of Surfside’s community center land, or partitioning 25 percent of the Champlain South land for a memorial and allowing a larger building on the rest of the property. Put the questions on the town’s March ballot, he said.

“I believe if we let residents of Surfside vote they would be in favor of walking five more blocks to their new community center which would have a memorial honoring their neighbors,” he said.