SURFSIDE, FLA. (WSVN) - First lady Dr. Jill Biden joined local leaders at a solemn ceremony in Surfside, as they and others at several gatherings marking the one-year anniversary of the condominium collapse consoled a community struck by tragedy and praised the first responders who combed through the rubble.
On June 24, 2021, Champlain Towers South collapsed, claiming the lives of 98 people.
Friday evening, 7News cameras captured mourners consoling each other on the sand near the collapse site.
Those who took part in the gathering prayed and sang together.
After the sun set, they lit paper lanterns and released them into the sky.
A grieving family member who lost his grandmother during the collapse said he was deeply touched by the lanterns.
“Seeing this tonight is a beautiful visual, in every way, shape and form,” he said.
It was a day to remember those lost. Earlier on Friday, family members, clergy, state and national officials honored the victims.
“We are all gathered here on sacred ground,” said Rabbi Sholom B. Lispskar.
Speaking at the ceremony, Biden recognized that the lives of families and friends have changed forever.
“We will spend the rest of our lives longing for a face that is gone forever,” she said. “Today we’re gathered to remember the 98 people lost. On behalf of my husband, President Biden, whose hearts and prayers have never left this community, we stand by you today and always.”
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis also spoke at the ceremony. He said those who died represented all parts of our community.
“You had young professionals that were just starting their lives, you had families with kids, you had grandparents who were retired,” said the governor.
DeSantis announced a $1 million state donation to fund a Surfside memorial, and he gave a stretch of Collins Avenue a new name: 98 Points of Light Road.
“Every time people drive by, they’re going to be reminded that there were great people that lived in that tower,” he said, “and that this is a tragedy that wounded this community and our state.”
Miami-Dade Mayor Daniella Levine Cava, who a year ago provided heartbreaking updates as victims were identified, praised first responders for their hard work and sacrifice.
“In the blistering heat, in the pouring rain, through fire and smoke and against all odds, you poured your heart and soul into the rescue and recovery to get the job done,” she said.
One by one, the names of each victim were read aloud by first responders.
But on this day of remembrance, surviving family members were the primary focus.
Raquel Oliveira lost her son and partner in the collapse.
“Exactly 365 days ago, my house imploded, collapsed with everything and everyone inside but me,” she said. “Instead of commemorating the deaths of all of them, I want them to be remembered for who they were in life.”
Ashley Dean lost her sister Cassie when the building collapsed.
“We all have spent this past year struggling with the pain and sorrow,” said Dean. “Moving forward, we want to remain strong now. We want to honor Cassie.”
Kevin Spiegel lost his wife Judy in the tragedy.
“Judy was the matriarch of our family. I did not even know where our bank account was. I was lost and continued to struggle daily, just like all of you,” he said. “I know what it means to feel profound loss, and one year later, time has not healed my broken heart.”
A moment of silence was also observed to honor those lost.
“We will now have a moment of silence for quiet reflection or prayer,” said Surfside Mayor Shlomo Danzinger. “They will never be forgotten, and the Town of Surfside will never forget 98 precious souls forever in our hearts.”
The ceremonies began during the overnight hours to mark the exact time that the tower collapsed. They continued throughout the day.
St. Joseph Catholic Church in Miami Beach held a Mass on Friday evening to commemorate the lives lost. At least one more local religious service was held to pay tribute to the victims.
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