Monday, September 17, 2001

Hope fades for Mason family

Their son was on 104th floor of Trade Center

By Kristina Goetz
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        NEW YORK — On Sunday, the Peraza family began to talk about their son in past tense. It wasn't closure, but it was close.

photo         Five days after hijacked planes crashed into the World Trade Center, the Mason family has all but given up hope that their son, Robert David Peraza, will be found alive.

        “He was born in 1971 when they first started building the World Trade Center,” said Rob's mother, Suzanne Peraza, sitting Sunday in her son's apartment on Manhattan's Upper West Side.

        “And now, 30 years later, in 2001, that's his coffin. That's what's been going through my mind.”

        Sunday morning, the Perazas went to Mass at St. Augustine Church in New City, N.Y., where relatives live. They were surrounded by family who made the trip this week.

        It was a time to find solace in the comfort of each other.

        “You've got to touch things and see things to make them real,” Mrs. Peraza said.

        After Mass, the family made the hour-long drive into the city, where they went first to Rob's apartment in a cozy neighborhood. Bob Peraza, Rob's father, alternately spoke of his son in present and past tense.

        Mr. Peraza, a Procter & Gamble employee and president of Cincinnati's Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, thumbed through photographs, and showed off his son's golf clubs and guitar, the dried roses in vases.

        “He was a very sentimental young man,” Mr. Peraza said.

        Rob Peraza was a broker at Cantor Fitzgerald, a bond trading firm that had offices on the 104th floor of the World Trade Center's Tower One. More than 600 of the roughly 1,000 men and women who worked in Cantor Fitzgerald's New York offices are missing and believed dead in Tuesday's attack.

        Mr. and Mrs. Peraza got to New York on Wednesday. Thursday morning, they registered their son's name among the missing. They gave his dental records, a sample of his hair from a brush, and a smiling photo of their son embracing the woman he planned to marry.

        Friday, they repeated the same ritual. Up early, down to the National Guard armory. Check in at the Pierre Hotel, where Cantor Fitzgerald set up a center for families missing loved ones.

        On Saturday, officials took swabs from their mouths for DNA testing that might help identify him.

        But Mrs. Peraza is worried there may not be a body. American Airlines Flight 11 hit the floors immediately below the 104th floor of Tower One.

        But that did not stop Sunday's search.

        As on every other day they've been in New York, the Perazas walked past the thousands of people near the armory at 26th Street and Lexington Avenue. Media swarmed the corner as police officers directed pedestrian traffic. They walked past the hundreds of other fliers with photographs and messages: “Have you seen me?”

        And past dozens of dried bunches of roses like the one in their son's apartment.

        Down the steps and to the basement at the armory, the family huddled with a counselor to pore over the list: 4,800 in hospitals, about 180 confirmed dead.

        They ran down the list to the “P's”: Peraza with an E, Peraza with an A. Then every last name that starts with P. Robert. Is there a Robert?

        But there was still no Robert Peraza on any list Sunday. Hope was diminished even further.

        “All the people in the hospital have been identified,” Mr. Peraza said he was told in the armory.

        One more hope dashed.

        “I think the odds are getting smaller and smaller and smaller,” he said. “To me, it's close to hopeless.”

        But as they left to head to the Plaza Hotel, the new center for missing Cantor Fitzgerald employees, they hung up a flier anyway: “Robert Peraza, five-foot-10, brown eyes, age 30.”

        It hangs near another sign that says, “New York will stand strong.” And just to the right of an American flag.

        But when they reached the hotel, there still was no news about Rob. There has been no word of anyone surviving Floor 104 since Tuesday's attacks.

        As the family headed back to New City, they took it one hour at a time. They might not check the list today except by Internet. They will meet at their son's apartment to start going through his things.

        Soon they will head home.

        “I'm not sure there's much more we can do,” his father said.


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