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Surfside's informal 'wall of remembrance' a reflection of humanity

Photographs, names, messages, flowers, candles and prayers adorn makeshift memorial

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SURFSIDE | There are pictures of children’s faces, retired couples at elegant dinners, a father and son moment, a young married couple, crosses, candles and hand-written prayers on yellow Post-It notes and drugstore greeting cards. 

Surfside’s informal ‘wall of remembrance’ memorial sprung up following the tragic partial collapse of the Champlain Towers South condo near Miami Beach. The wall has been so popular since it appeared late last week that local law enforcement had to close the area due to hundreds gathering on the streets there. 

Passersby spend a few moments at an informal 'wall of remembrance' memorial created on a fence just a few blocks south of the fallen south tower at the Champlain condominium in Surfside, following the tragic partial collapse of the housing facility early in the morning of June 24, 2021. The remains of the building can be seen in the distance.

Photographer: TOM TRACY | FC

Passersby spend a few moments at an informal 'wall of remembrance' memorial created on a fence just a few blocks south of the fallen south tower at the Champlain condominium in Surfside, following the tragic partial collapse of the housing facility early in the morning of June 24, 2021. The remains of the building can be seen in the distance.

“God is ‘El Roi,’ the God Who Sees — Help the First Responders find their bodies,” reads one note, using a reference to one of God’s names found in the Book of Genesis. 

Another note, posted below a Hispanic father and son, reads: “Be with their family, Lord. Let them know they are not alone, Jesus. We are praying.”

On Saturday afternoon, June 26, the area was devoid of visitors. Tina Paul, vice mayor of the Town of Surfside, came to take pictures of the wall and pay respects to several of the missing persons she said she knows personally. 

“It is my second visit. Last night we visited the (ground zero) site with our building official and structural engineers, and on our way home we saw the site — it was just being set up and I wanted to come back and see it again,” Paul said.

“It has grown a lot since last night, and I just feel so bad. My friend is right up there,” she said, pointing to the picture of a missing couple, Myriam, 81, and Arnie Notkin, 87.

Some of the missing Catholic families and parishioners are represented as well, including Juan Mora, Jr., seen wearing a tuxedo, possibly at a friend’s wedding. Mora Jr. is a graduate of Belen Jesuit Prep who also attended St. Theresa School in Coral Gables until switching to Belen in sixth grade. His parents, Juan and Ana Mora, are also missing. They are members of St. Joseph Parish a short walk away. 

After spending time at the Surfside family reunification center, a kind of gathering place for briefings from civic authorities and coordination of volunteer activities, a visiting clergyman and National Guard Trained Crisis Responder in terrorism and disaster from Tampa tried, but failed, to see the remembrance wall firsthand.

Pastor Moses Brown, a senior chaplain and evangelical minister at Advent Health in Land O’Lakes and a native of Broward County, said he met with some of the family members waiting for the daily updates. 

“There are not many words to say in something this catastrophic but God be with you,” Brown said. 

“I went down to the Haiti earthquake, and that was something to see — the reliance of those people. Some things you can’t be trained on but being there trains me. Haiti showed me that it could happen. Sometimes these things are unbelievable until you see it yourself,” Brown said. “All of us living in high-rises are thinking, could it be me?”

Brown said he is encouraged that St. Joseph Church is part of the Surfside community — he said he was directed there by a police officer who said it was a place to come pray. 

“That means it’s relevant in this community. I found the church by talking to a police officer who is sending people over there, so I said to myself, that must be a church that is really doing something.”

On Saturday night, the pastor of St. Joseph Parish, Father Juan Sosa, and a group of clergy and parishioners concluded an evening prayer vigil and eucharistic adoration by walking several blocks over to the wall of remembrance. 

They likewise were informed that the area was not open due to public safety concerns. Still, they were close enough to see the ground zero site and so turned on their cell phone lights, sang a few hymns and prayed for a few minutes before leaving. 

Tina Paul, vice mayor of the Town of Surfside, spends a few moments at an informal 'wall of remembrance' memorial that was created on a fence just a few blocks south of the fallen south tower at the Champlain condominium in Surfside which tragically collapsed early in the morning of June 24, 2021.

Photographer: TOM TRACY | FC

Tina Paul, vice mayor of the Town of Surfside, spends a few moments at an informal 'wall of remembrance' memorial that was created on a fence just a few blocks south of the fallen south tower at the Champlain condominium in Surfside which tragically collapsed early in the morning of June 24, 2021.