With each new flower, new life is given to the sacred space known as the Surfside Wall of Hope and Remembrance.
“A lot of family members come here,” said creator Leo Soto. “They feel that bond with their family members.”
It’s a space where family, friends, and community members come to grieve, to cry, and to remember the 98 lives gone too soon.
“Share their moments with their loved ones here,” Soto said. “Share their hurting with the community here.”
Soto created the memorial just one day after the Champlain Towers South collapsed.
Every week, he and volunteers come back to clean it up.
Surfside Condo Collapse
Complete coverage of the Surfside Condo Collapse
“We’re out here taking out all the dying roses, and we’re actually replenishing them with thousands of fresh new roses that we got donated,” Soto said.
Soto says thousands of flowers have been donated by the community along with crosses and candles. Other items were found in the rubble.
“Firefighters have come here with toys that they’ve pulled from the rubble, college diplomas that they’ve pulled from the rubble,” he said.
The mission became personal to Soto when he realized Nicky Langesfeld, a friend from high school, was one of the victims.
“It just became very real for me,” he said. “I just wanted to help.”
The clean-up is also personal for volunteer Michael Noriega.
“The word is ‘shock’ ‘in awe,’” Noriega said. “It’s almost like a nightmare that you can’t believe is real. It really took a while to process it.”
His grandmother, 92-year-old Hilda Noriega, lived on the sixth floor and died in the collapse.
“Very fiercely independent,” Noriega said. “The most loving woman you would ever meet.”
“It’s been heartbreaking, but we’ve also had peace through the process.”
It’s a process Soto says that’s transformed the memorial from a place of sadness to something bigger.
“This community’s healing,” Soto said. “We’re growing together. We’ve been through so much pain, but we’re coming out stronger on the other side.”