• Mon. Sep 25th, 2023


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Woman Whose Voice Was Heard in Surfside Rubble Is Identified

It was five hours after the collapse of a 13-story beachfront condominium building in Surfside, Fla., last June when rescue crews first heard a woman’s voice coming from under the rubble. It was faint but calm.

She told them she was trapped, between two mattresses or maybe between a mattress and a wall.

Rescue crews did not reach her in time, though they heard her for several more hours, fire officials said at a news conference last year. Her identity eluded investigators for months.

According to a report released this week by the Miami-Dade Fire Rescue Department, the woman was Theresa Velasquez, who was 36 at the time of her death.

She was a music industry executive from Los Angeles who had been visiting her parents at their apartment in the Champlain Towers South condominium. The three were among the 98 victims whose bodies were recovered from the collapsed building and identified, even as the mystery of the voice persisted.

“There were high emotions as many felt that the article misled the public to believe that the technical search crews burned and ultimately let a child die due to their actions,” Mr. Jadallah wrote in his report, calling some of the article’s claims “baseless and nonfactual.”

A spokeswoman for Gannett, which owns and publishes USA Today, said that the company was reviewing the report.

“The facts and the sourcing in our story are clear,” the spokeswoman, Lark-Marie Anton, said via email, declining to answer further questions.

Rescue crew members told Mr. Jadallah that during the search for the source of the voice, it was only possible to hear it when everything else was silent.

“Even the faintest whisper from the rescue crews or sloshing in the standing water negated any ability to hear the woman,” Mr. Jadallah wrote.

The voice sounded like that of a woman, not a child, and was consistent with that of a native English speaker, without a trace of a Spanish accent, he said. And she never called out for her parents, as a teenager might be expected to.

There was no charring on Ms. Velasquez’s body, which was pulled from the rubble two weeks after the collapse, Mr. Jadallah said. Last December, the fire rescue notified the families of Ms. Velasquez and Ms. Barth of their conclusions, according to the report.

Ms. Velasquez’s brother David did not immediately respond on Wednesday to a request for comment. He told CBS Miami that he accepted the findings.

“There is no way to know 100 percent,” he said, “but it seems like the logical conclusion.”

Ms. Velasquez, along with her parents, Julio and Angela, had been in a third-floor apartment when the building crumbled and were among the 98 victims who perished. She had flown into Surfside only hours before the building gave way, The Miami Herald reported.

She lived in Los Angeles and was a music executive at Live Nation, where she was an “impassioned leader,” the company said in a statement last year. In 2020, Billboard named her on a list of top L.G.B.T.Q. music executives. She was also a D.J. who had toured internationally.

On social media, Ms. Velasquez captured the moments of her life, one filled with travel, and time with friends.

In a eulogy at a memorial service last July, David Velasquez described his younger sister as the coolest person he had ever met. He listed her many accomplishments, including degrees from Georgetown University and New York University, her talent in music, and the efforts she made to support the L.G.B.T.Q. community that she belonged to.

“Effortlessly cool, a planet with her own gravity where people got caught in her orbit,” he said. “She could do everything well, an absolute force of nature.”

Johnny Diaz contributed reporting from Miami.