Monday, October 29, 2001

Family holds memorial for NY victim

Loveland church filled with Rob Peraza's friends

By Kristina Goetz
The Cincinnati Enquirer

Highlights of Rob Peraza's life are seen in photos and mementos at his memorial service.
(Craig Ruttle photo)
| ZOOM |
        They no longer hold out hope he will be found alive. Or that searchers at the World Trade Center will even find his remains. So the Mason family whose son died in the Sept. 11 attacks has begun to celebrate his life.

        As thousands stood in New York on Sunday to mourn at the site of the World Trade Center, family and friends of Robert David Peraza gathered at St. Margaret of York Church in Loveland.

        “It's been a part of hell,” said Bob Peraza, Rob's dad, during the memorial Mass. “The ups and downs, the not knowing. But it's also been a part of heaven.

        “People have been so wonderful in their replies to us.”

        During the 1 1/2-hour service, Rob's brother, Neil, spoke about their relationship. His big brother always pushed him.

        Holding a microphone and wiping tears, he said:

        “It's just because he loved me so much.”

        There were prayers for peace and pleas for those attending to make amends with their own loved ones.

        “Please, please, please,” Mr. Peraza said, “Call, grovel. Call today, tomorrow. Make peace with that person. Don't wait six months, six years. That may never come.”

        It has been a tough road for the Peraza family since Sept. 11 when they learned the likely fate of their son, a 30-year-old broker at Cantor Fitzgerald, a bond trading firm that had offices on the 104th floor of Tower One.

        After a week of searching, giving DNA samples and posting fliers all over New York, they came home with papers, pictures and Rob's dog, Otis.

        They returned to New York for a Sept. 29 memorial service for Rob's friends. It was the first of three that will be held. The last will be Nov. 17 in Norwich, N.Y.

        Bob Peraza and his wife, Suzanne, went that last weekend in September to the smoldering site of what's left of the towers. With the help of U.S. Rep. Rob Portman they took some generic ashes to put in their son's urn and applied for a death certificate the same day.

        “You see those beams,” Mr. Peraza said. “There was dust in the air and it was still smoking.”

        They had to wait because firefighters were saluting as the remains of one of their own was being taken to a hearse.

        The Perazas have shared their grief with hundreds of friends and dozens of perfect strangers.

        They replay Rob's life to each other through stories — and did again Sunday through a series of posters at the service.

        The day he was born. The pacifier he wouldn't go without. His first bicycle and his first date. The year he was an exchange student in South Africa when Nelson Mandela was freed. College at St. Bonaventure University in upstate New York, where Rob and his family lived for years. Rugby.

        Then as a grown man: a balding head, in Central Park, and with the woman he planned to marry, Megan.

        Realizing that Rob is dead has been a slow process. But there are still desperate moments of hope. Rob had a tendency, his mother said, to send a $3 greeting card in a FedEx package to make sure it arrived on time. The day before a family birthday, two packages arrived.

        “You see this FedEx and you think ... Is he alive? Is it a birthday card?” his mother said.

        They were not. One was from Cantor Fitzgerald regarding his finances. The other contained 10 copies of his death certificate.

        “It was just heartbreaking,” she said.

        To cope and to remember Rob, the family has set up a memorial Web site and two scholarships in his name. And his uncle, who trained Rob to run in the New York City Marathon this weekend, will run in his place.

        Instead of the number — 1226 — he was given as a missing person in the World Trade Center disaster, Rob Peraza will have a new one: 18416. His uncle will wear it..

        As for what's next, Mr. Peraza said he is back to work at Procter & Gamble. Mrs. Peraza is back part-time at Jewish Hospital, where she is an intensive-care nurse. They plan to write more thank-you letters to add to the 300 or so they've already sent.

        And Mr. Peraza may write to former Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Ridge, who now heads the new Office of Homeland Security. They will get involved somehow: to stop terrorism or to make sure the memory of those who died lives on.

        “I don't want anyone to forget what happened in New York City,” Mrs. Peraza said.

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