Sons, architects, tourists: A shared fate on the bike path
Three decades had passed since their 1987 graduation from a technology high school in Argentina, but they had kept close through marriages, trips, jobs — mostly as architects — and children.
Some had played volleyball together in school, and as grown-ups, they would meet almost every week for traditional Argentine meat barbecues, or asados.
This week, they gathered in New York for a trip to mark their graduation 30 years ago — a celebration shattered when a man in a rental truck mowed them down as they rode bicycles on a path on the west side of Manhattan.
“Ariel Erlij "used to say that if it wasn't for the U.S., the world would no longer exist because of these crazy (terrorists)." -- Flavia Gauna, friend”
Five of the group of 10 died. Police called it a terrorist attack.
They hailed from Rosario, Argentina, the country’s third-largest city and the hometown of international soccer star Lionel Messi and guerrilla leader Che Guevara.
“It hurts us to think that these are people who walked the same school halls as we did or that studied in our same classrooms,” said Agustin Riccardi, a senior at the victims’ alma mater, the Polytechnic School of Rosario.
The Argentine tour group formed the bulk of the eight deaths from Tuesday’s attack, victims who reflected New York’s status as a top tourist destination and capital of finance and technology.
The others were a Belgian mother of young sons, a new college graduate working as a software engineer, and a doting son who had recently lost nearly 100 pounds and was getting a bike ride in between meetings at his World Trade Center job.
Now, friends and relatives are remembering the victims — and recounting the circumstances that led them to New York.
Minutes before the attack, Ariel Erlij had called his wife in Rosario to tell her he was riding a bike and was happy.
“Ariel loved American culture,” said friend Flavia Gauna, who knew of the bike conversation from Erlij’s wife, Pabla Pereyra. “He used to say that if it wasn’t for the U.S., the world would no longer exist because of these crazy (terrorists). And look what happened.”
Erlij’s wife authorized Gauna to disclose details about the victim so he would not become an anonymous terrorism victim, Gauna said.
“Right now, I’m sad,” Gauna said. “I’m sure next I’ll be filled with rage afterward. It’s a very difficult moment. It is difficult to see his wife, who is so sad, knowing how much they adored each other, and to see his children sad.”
Erlij, a 48-year-old civil engineer, founded Ivanar, a steel production company that made him the most financially successful of his old schoolmates. He was the driving force behind the trip to New York, helping to foot the bill for those who couldn’t afford it.
Erlij, who had three children, was a big soccer fan, and also was active in politics in his home city and the surrounding state as he promoted investment projects for the area.
A neighbor, Averio Ososky, described Erlij as “an entrepreneur, a working type. Of gold.”
Mendoza, 47, was a founding partner of the Rosario architecture firm Amascuatro with Ariel Benvenuto, a high school classmate who survived the attack in New York.
Mendoza was a big sports fan, and a longtime supporter of the Newell’s Old Boys soccer club, which vies with Rosario Central to be the most popular team in the central Argentine city.
As a child, he played soccer at the Renato Cesarini school, which is dedicated to training players mainly from Santa Fe province, where Rosario is. Javier Mascherano, a midfielder for Barcelona, trained there, and Argentine national team coach Jorge Sampaoli was an instructor.
As a teenager, Mendoza discarded his dream of being a professional soccer player and turned to rugby. He played for the Duendes club and was a coach there until a year ago.
Mendoza was married with three children.
A friend, Cesar Lagostino, who also played at Renato Cesarini, remembers Mendoza for his passion for athletics, and for architecture.
“Always a lover of sport and of his profession,” Lagostino said.
“I remember him as an honest person, among those who deserve to stay in this world,” the friend added. “Generous and calm. I do not remember having seen him in anything violent.”
DIEGO ENRIQUE ANGELINI
Angelini, 48, followed in the footsteps of his father to become a well-known architect in Rosario and ran the architecture studio Angelini Architects.
“He was a very good professional and person. He was noble, loved by the city. It’s so hard for us that he’s gone,” his father, Luis Angelini, told the AP in tears.
Angelini was married and had four young children, according to Rosario’s La Capital newspaper. Growing up, he played volleyball with Erlij and other members of the group at Rosario’s Club Rowing, which closed on Wednesday to mourn them.
ALEJANDRO DAMIAN PAGNUCCO
Pagnucco, 49, lived with his wife and three daughters in Funes, a small city in the outskirts of Rosario.
Growing up, Angelini played soccer and volleyball at Rosario’s Club Rowing with other members of the group. The club closed on Wednesday to mourn them, according to La Capital newspaper.
After graduating from college, he worked as an architect and later as a salesman for construction materials for Femaco, a company that was owned by the Brayco Group, which was headed by survivor Ivan Brajkovic.
“He was very sociable and loved by everyone,” Ignacio Ortiz, a work colleague at Femaco, told the AP. “He was responsible at work and devoted to his family.”
Ortiz said that it was Pagnucco’s first trip to the U.S.
“He was so excited about this trip with his friends. He had been preparing it for a while.”
Ferruchi, married with two children, had a prolific career at the Fundar construction company, where he held a management post.
Ferruchi was responsible for several projects in Rosario’s affluent north port area, near the Parana river.
His work colleagues knew him as an excellent professional, as well as a humble, loving man.
The company posted an image of Ferruchi on social media with the words: “New York” and “We’ll remember our buddy.”
Ann-Laure Decadt, 31, the mother of a 3-year-old and a 3-month-old son, had traveled with her relatives to New York from a rural town in Belgium.
Decadt belonged to a prominent family that owns a venerable animal feed business in Staden, a town of 11,000 some 60 miles (100 kilometers) west of Brussels.
The family said in a statement that “she was riding a bike and apparently was surprised by a vehicle that came from behind.” Her husband and children had not traveled with her. Other family members escaped injury.
Decadt grew up in the town and was active in its social scene, taking part in the youth council and village fairs, said Staden’s mayor, Francesco Vanderjeugd.
“Ann-Laure meant so much to us in town,” he said. “It is an attack in New York, but also one on our community.”
Flags flew at half-staff in the village, and a condolence register was opened at the community center Wednesday — All Saints’ Day, when Belgium traditionally remembers the dead.
Johan Verstervete, a friend of the family, said: “We knew her as a very spontaneous person, very dynamic, loving her family and her children.”
Vanderjeugd said he was delighted when he first heard that Decadt was going to New York. He even sent the family a message saying: “Wow, you’ll have a great time there, with Halloween and the New York marathon and all.”
“And then,” he said, “this happens.”
Darren Drake, a 32-year-old project manager for Moody’s Investors Service at the World Trade Center, had recently lost 93 pounds after undergoing lap band surgery. He was out for a bike ride between meetings when the truck hit and killed him.
“While other people would take cigarette or coffee breaks, he would go out and ride the bike for 15 to 20 minutes,” his father, James Drake, told NJ.com.
He earned a bachelor’s degree in political science at Rutgers University in 2007 and a master’s degree in business administration in 2011 from Fairleigh Dickinson University. He was working toward a second master’s degree, at Stevens Institute of Technology.
Drake was civic-minded. Even while serving on the New Milford school board, he ran on a Republican slate for the city council in 2011 and was narrowly defeated. One of his running mates, Celeste Scavetta-Homaychak, told NorthJersey.com, “He was a very sweet man, who wouldn’t harm a fly.”
Just before that council election, Drake stressed that he favored a nonpartisan approach to local politics.
“There’s no Democratic or Republican way to fill a pothole,” he told the New Milford Patch.
James Drake told NorthJersey.com that he drove Darren every day to the train terminal in suburban Hoboken so he could commute to his job in the city.
In fact, his father said, Darren may well have escaped death or injury in September 2016 when a train crashed at Hoboken Terminal, killing one person and injuring dozens of others.
That day, a crossing guard had stopped their car to help schoolchildren cross a street. The delay caused Darren to miss the accident at the station.
“It was a matter of 30 seconds,” his father said.
Upset, Darren immediately called his father to pick him up and take him back home.
The only New Yorker killed in the attack, Nicholas Cleves, 23, graduated last year from Skidmore College with a degree in computer science and died not far from his home in Manhattan’s Greenwich Village. He was a software engineer and web developer.
Cleves described himself on his Facebook page as a “nerdy white boy.” The most recent photo posted there showed him posing with some friends next to a Darth Vader figure at a Star Wars exhibit.
He had been working as a software engineer for the Unified Digital Group.
Cleves attended the Little Red School House and Elisabeth Irwin High School, a progressive school in New York, from kindergarten through 12th grade, and later was a part-time member of its information technology staff.
The school’s director, Phil Kassen, wrote on Facebook that Cleves was “just the nicest person to have around.”
“Nicholas was kind, caring, curious, interested, and a great friend,” Klassen wrote. “He always had a kind word when you would pass him in the hall, and the biggest smile, and always offered to help, no matter the situation.”
Cleves’ Italian-born mother, Monica Missio, is the owner of a lighting design company in New York. Klassen said she was an engaged parent who helped lead many of the school’s art auctions.
Cleves’ father, British-born Richard Cleves, died in 2013. He was Missio’s business partner, and was remembered by Klassen for creating “the most wondrous and scariest haunted houses” for the school’s Halloween Fair.
Contributing to this report were Associated Press writers Debora Rey and Hernan Alvarez and video journalist Paul Byrne in Rosario; Luis Andres Henao and Almudena Calatrava in Buenos Aires; David Crary in New York; Raf Casert in Brussels, Belgium; and Michael Rubinkam in northeastern Pennsylvania.