Theresa Velasquez identified as the voice from the rubble of the Surfside condo collapse

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For hours, crews raced to save a woman whose weak voice could be heard under mounds of rubble. She had somehow survived after Champlain Towers South in Surfside, Florida collapsed in the early morning of June 24, but was trapped.

The search and rescue dogs had picked up the smell of a living person trapped under the parking lot around 6:30 a.m. – about five hours after the building fell, a new Miami-Dade Fire Rescue report said. She responded when crew members called her, but rescuers were ultimately unable to reach her. She became one of nearly 100 people who were killed in the collapse.

The question of his identity remained a concern for firefighters for months after the disaster. Officials now let’s say the woman was Theresa Velasquez, a 36-year-old woman musical director from Los Angeles who was visiting his parents. Julio Cesar Velasquez, 67, and his wife, Angela Maria, 60 – who lived in Unit 304 – also died in the collapse.

Velasquez has spent much of his career in the music industry, the Miami Herald reported. After going to NYU to get her master’s degree in music business, she continued to work for a few record labels. She eventually landed at Live Nation, where she worked for six years and served as senior vice president of strategic partnerships. Throughout his career, Velasquez has worked to create more visibility and inclusivity for the LGBTQ community in the music industry, according to the Herald. In 2020, Billboard included her in its list of Top Leaders for Pride Month.

After his death, colleagues in the music industry praised Velasquez for his work. Tracy Young, producer, DJ and songwriter, said Velasquez was an integral part of the music communities in Miami, New York and Los Angeles.

“I feel like I lost a sister and I don’t understand why you were taken so young, with your whole life ahead of you,” she wrote in a Facebook tribute to Velasquez. “Loved watching another female DJ take over the DJ and music community. … Your talent and spirit touched many and we will never forget!

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The firefighters’ findings, first reported by WFOR, disprove a USA Today Network reporter’s account of the rescue attempt, which identified the victim as Valeria Barth – a 14-year-old who was in the unit located just below the Velasquez family. Miami-Dade Fire Rescue’s new report, dated April 25, is based on “witness testimony and physical evidence,” Deputy Fire Chief Raied S. Jadallah wrote.

A spokeswoman for Gannett, owner of USA Today, said the company is “reviewing MDFR’s new report.”

“The facts and sources of our history are clear. We have no additional comments at this time,” she added in a statement to The Washington Post.

Responders to the scene gave different accounts of the voice they heard from under the rubble. Some reported hearing the person say they belonged to Unit 204, while others recalled hearing 304. Barth and his family had traveled from Colombia and were staying in Unit 204.

“[It] was difficult to hear the woman because of the distance,” the Miami-Dade Fire Rescue report states, adding that rescue teams said they could only communicate with her “when all operations have ceased and everyone has been silenced”.

“Even the slightest whisper from the rescue crews or the sloshing in the standing water prevented any ability to hear the woman,” the report added.

In describing the voice, rescuers also noted that the woman spoke English without an accent. Video footage of Velasquez reviewed by officials matched him speaking style, the report says.

Barth’s native language is Spanish, the report notes.

The voice also sounded like it belonged to an adult, rescuers said. Additionally, the person said she was visiting her parents and “remained calm when communicating with rescuers,” according to the report.

He wanted to go home to the Champlain towers. His girlfriend wanted him to stay. She may have saved his life.

Rescuers finally found and extracted Velasquez’s body on July 8, two weeks after the collapse.

Velasquez’s brother, David, told WFOR he accepted the report’s findings.

“There’s no way to know 100%,” he said, “but that seems like the logical conclusion.”

About Chris Stevenson

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