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Boy who survived Surfside building collapse thanks ‘Dave, Charlie, Kenny, Corey, Cesar, and Alex’

SURFSIDE, Fla. – Building collapse survivor Jonah Handler’s father released a public statement of gratitude to his 15-year-old son’s rescuers and to those who have helped to support them through the traumatic and painful experience.

The Monsignor Edward Pace High School student was in the Champlain Towers South in Surfside. He was with his mother, Stacie Dawn Fang, the vice president of the Customer Relationship Management Conference, an annual event for retail executives.

Nicholas Balboa had traveled from Phoenix, Arizona to Surfside and he was walking his dog near Champlain Towers South, at 8777 Collins Ave. The L-shaped building’s northeastern section collapsed first. Jonah and Fang lived in the 12-story building’s northwestern section that fell over it.

The floors and ceilings of the two sections piled up one over the other crushing walls and trapping residents in a compact mountain of pancaked concrete. Balboa was outside when he heard what sounded like a loud explosion, felt the ground shake slightly, and saw the gray cloud of dust.

After the sudden free fall, Jonah was able to move. The varsity baseball player at Monsignor Edward Pace High School was injured. He instinctively looked for a way out, but he was trapped. His only option was to stretch his arm through a gap and scream for help.

Balboa ran back to shelter his dog and ran back outside. He rushed down the street, ran around a neighboring building to get to the beach. Fire Rescue personnel had not arrived there yet. Balboa and another man approached the rubble and heard someone making noise.

“We got closer and I could make out the voice sounded like a young boy ... He was screaming and he was sticking his hand out through the rubble ... We were able to see him, so we started to try and get access to him to see if we could maybe help him ... We weren’t able to do it,” Balboa said.

Balboa said he felt powerless, horrified, shocked, and angry.

“He was just saying, ‘Please, don’t leave me! Don’t leave me! Don’t leave me!’ I told him, ‘We are right here. We won’t leave you.’”

Balboa said a police officer came over and made the climb. Firefighters later followed. In his recent note of gratitude, Jonah’s father, Neil Handler, identified the first responders who pulled Jonah out as “Dave, Charlie, Kenny, Corey, Cesar, and Alex.”

Rescuer’s also pulled Jonah’s mother out of the rubble, but she died on the way to Aventura Hospital & Medical Center. Fang, 54, was the first victim the Miami-Dade Police Department identified by name. By Wednesday night, they had identified 96 others.

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Archived raw video: Interview with Balboa

A 15-year-old boy who was pulled from the rubble following Thursday morning’s partial building collapse in Surfside has been identified as Jonah Handler.
A 15-year-old boy who was pulled from the rubble following Thursday morning’s partial building collapse in Surfside has been identified as Jonah Handler.

About the Authors:

Layron Livingston made the move from Ohio's Miami Valley to Miami, Florida, to join the Local 10 News team.

The Emmy Award-winning journalist joined the Local 10 News team in 2013. She wrote for the Miami Herald for more than 9 years and won a Green Eyeshade Award.