Grieving widow whose husband is still missing in Surfside condo collapse decries sale of property


Three weeks since the collapse of the Champlain Towers South condominium, Soriya Cohen is still waiting for her husband’s body to be found.

Now the grieving widow is speaking out about her disdain for a judge’s decision Wednesday night to approve the sale of the oceanfront property in Surfside, Miami. 

Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Michael Hanzman ordered that the process begin to sell the property even as the dead still are being recovered. Around noon Thursday, the Miami-Dade Police tweeted the names of the most recent victims identified, including Maria Notkin, 81, Valeria Barth, 14, Michelle Anna Pazos, 23, and Mihai Radulescu, 82, bringing the death toll to 97.

Cohen’s husband, Brad, an orthopedic surgeon, 51, is still unaccounted for. His brother Gary Cohen, 58, was also in the condo during the collapse and his body was identified July 7.

Soriya Cohen is speaking out about her disdain for a judge’s decision Wednesday night to approve the sale of the oceanfront property in Surfside, Miami

Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Michael Hanzman ordered that the process begin to sell the oceanfront property where the Champlain Towers South condominium collapsed June 24

Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Michael Hanzman ordered that the process begin to sell the oceanfront property where the Champlain Towers South condominium collapsed June 24

The judge's decision was made the night before four more victims were identified, bringing the death toll to 97

The judge’s decision was made the night before four more victims were identified, bringing the death toll to 97

Soriya Cohen, who is still missing her husband Brad in the collapse, slammed the decision as a 'desecration.' She was at the site, holding up a picture of Brad on her phone

Soriya Cohen, who is still missing her husband Brad in the collapse, slammed the decision as a ‘desecration.’ She was at the site, holding up a picture of Brad on her phone

Asked about plans to build on the site, Cohen said to Local 10 News, “I can’t even imagine such a desecration. Imagine if that was your spouse, your parent or your grandparent and to make money, they built on top of it. [Brad] loved God and feared God and he believed in following the Jewish law to a T and the Halacha is about proper burial and cemeteries. It should certainly apply to him and I’m asking everybody to please respect that and respect the families and the people who have already suffered a loss so much not to add to our pain.”

Cohen said that the site should be treated like a cemetery and building on it would be disrespecting the dead and those who are still missing. 

Miami-Dade Mayor Danielle Levine Cava announced Monday that workers believe they found Brad Cohen’s ring and car, but Cohen said she’s losing hope that he ever will be found.

She described missing him as being like having a mourning or Shiva process when you didn’t have a funeral. ‘I’m not even 100 percent sure he is going to be found because they looked in his apartment and they only found his brother.”

Brad, an orthopedic surgeon, 51, is one of the few who are still unaccounted for

Brad, an orthopedic surgeon, 51, is one of the few who are still unaccounted for

The Cohen's daughter Elisheva, 12, met with President Joe Biden during his emotional day-long visit to the scene on July 1

The Cohen’s daughter Elisheva, 12, met with President Joe Biden during his emotional day-long visit to the scene on July 1

Brad’s daughter Elisheva, 12, caught the attention of President Biden when he visited the scene on July 1. She had been found four days after the Champlain Towers South condo catastrophe by Surfside Mayor Charles Burkett sitting on a chair all alone reading psalms in a scene that he said ‘broke my heart’.

Burkett told Dailymail.com: ‘Today she met the President. He was talking about his family and the tragedy in his life. He specifically said to Elisheva, ”Try to be strong.”’ 

Gary Cohen traveled down to south Florida from his Alabama home to visit his elderly father in Boynton Beach, before fatefully deciding to spend time at his brother’s 11th floor apartment. He was a psychiatrist at the Tuscaloosa Veterans Affairs Medical Center.

Soriya was staying at a different apartment building in Miami Beach with Elisheva on the night of the collapse. Elisheva has a brother Avi, 19, who was not home at the time of the collapse.

Soriya Cohen isn’t alone in her desire to see a memorial at the Surfside condo site. During a recent news conference, Mayor Miami-Dade County Mayor Danielle Levine Cava said, ‘We definitely need a memorial. We must have some sort of memorial. Exactly where it will be is going to be determined.’  

Burkett added, “We are going to look for guidance from families.” 

The families of the deceased differ on what should happen to the property. A Change.org petition calling for the site to be turned into a memorial has received more than 1,200 signatures. Some want the condo rebuilt swiftly so they could move back in. Others want a hybrid of a new complex combined with a memorial.

According to USA Today, the sale could yield up to $110million and Hanzman said the proceeds should be split among the victims’ families. The court appointed attorney Michael Goldberg to handle the finances related to the sale.

In an email sent to USA Today, Goldberg wrote, ‘[Hanzman] wants us to start exploring a potential sale. He did say he wants the land to be sold and the proceeds to go directly to the victims as soon as possible.”

Goldman added, however, that the court’s order does not prevent the buyer from turning a portion of the property into a memorial site.

The recently identified victims include Maria Notkin, a retired paralegal and banker, (right). Her husband, Arnold, a retired physical education teacher in Miami Beach, also died in the collapse and was identified on July 9

The recently identified victims include Maria Notkin, a retired paralegal and banker, (right). Her husband, Arnold, a retired physical education teacher in Miami Beach, also died in the collapse and was identified on July 9

Valeria Barth, 14, (top) was identified days after rescuers found the bodies of her parents, Colombian lawyer Luis Fernando Barth (left) and his wife, Catalina (right)

Valeria Barth, 14, (top) was identified days after rescuers found the bodies of her parents, Colombian lawyer Luis Fernando Barth (left) and his wife, Catalina (right)

Mihai Radulescu (right) was identified as one of the victims of the Surfside building collapse on July 9. He was above with his wife, Maria, who was also in the collapse and has not yet been found

Mihai Radulescu (right) was identified as one of the victims of the Surfside building collapse on July 9. He was above with his wife, Maria, who was also in the collapse and has not yet been found 

An editorial published by the Miami Herald argues that the property should not be built on without adding some form of memorial with the input of the victims’ families. It reads, ‘Although we agree with the judge’s intent to compensate the families as generously as possible, these families’ displeasure at the decision is a reminder that emotions are so raw, that even well-intended decisions will not please everyone every step of the long, long way this case must travel.’

Miami attorney Renier Diaz de la Portilla spoke to the Miami Herald editorial board about the judge’s order and said, “This is not about money; there are religious reasons families want the land preserved as a memorial. These victims need a proper memorial and proper burial.” 

Diaz de la Portilla is working pro bono to represent Martin Lagesfeld, who lost his sister Nicole Lagesfeld and brother-in-law Louis Sadovnic in the collapse. 

The recently identified victims include Maria Notkin, a retired paralegal and banker. Her husband, Arnold, a retired physical education teacher in Miami Beach, also died in the collapse and was identified on July 9. The Notkins were regulars at Temple Menorah where at least 350 had gathered on Sunday, July 11, for their joint memorial service.

Valeria Barth was identified days after rescuers found the bodies of her parents, Colombian lawyer Luis Fernando Barth and his wife, Catalina. They had been staying with a friend at the building for about a month and were supposed to leave the day of the collapse, his brother told the Miami Herald last month.  



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