June 30, 2022

Surfside condo collapse survivor Jonah Handler starts foundation to help others suffering from PTSD

SURFSIDE, Fla. — Jonah Handler’s miraculous rescue from one of many deadliest constructing collapses in U.S. historical past might sound to have an apparent parallel, given his title.

The teenage boy fell from the tenth flooring of the beachfront condo tower that collapsed a yr in the past in Surfside, Florida, killing 98 individuals, together with his mom. He landed in a crevice, trapped inside a pocket amid fallen concrete. A person who had been strolling his canine noticed Jonah’s hand waving from the rubble and received help.

For his father and others, the rescue brings to thoughts the Outdated Testomony story of the prophet Jonah, swallowed by a whale despatched by God to save him from drowning.

“Plucked from the jaws of death,” Neil Handler mentioned in an interview with The Related Press. “I truly believe that God puts people in situations that help us build character.”

Now, Handler is sharing his son’s journey to bodily and psychological restoration as they begin a foundation to help households and first responders coping with post-traumatic stress dysfunction, like Jonah.

Handler mentioned he determined to begin the charity in reminiscence of Jonah’s mom, Stacie Fang, after seeing the ache within the eyes of the individuals who pulled his son from the rubble.

Photographs of a primary responder carrying Jonah on his shoulders provided hope to rescuers and the world because the search and rescue mission prolonged for 14 days. He was one among solely three survivors. Fang died after being taken to a hospital, turning into the primary sufferer recognized by authorities. The household instantly requested privateness and Handler declined interviews till not too long ago.

WATCH: Florida condo collapse survivors meet once more in tearful reunion

Jonah’s father had stored the aftermath of the collapse non-public to defend his son, who’s now 16.

The boy spent 5 days within the hospital, suffering from compression fractures in his again, and was in a brace for 2 months. He began remedy to cope together with his loss and trauma. When thunderstorms roll in, Handler mentioned, he will get frightened.

“Every doctor, every psychiatrist I spoke to said that he’s no different than a combat veteran who just came back from war,” Handler mentioned.

He mentioned Jonah, a highschool baseball participant, went again to class and was handled like a “regular kid” to return to a way of normalcy.

Typically, the daddy tries to maintain issues gentle. On a current day, they have been going by a listing of unclaimed objects recovered from the particles. Handler was searching for jewellery he knew was necessary to Fang, reminiscent of a hoop handed down from her father. Jonah, alternatively, was trying on the signed baseballs.

“He said, ‘I didn’t know so many kids in my building liked baseball,'” Handler mentioned. “He goes, ‘Do you think we can get them?'”

SEE ALSO: Tales of survivors, lacking in Surfside constructing collapse

The day earlier than the collapse, Jonah and his mom had returned residence from seeing her brother, who was visiting Palm Seashore County from New York.

Handler and Fang had separated however had a great co-parenting relationship, and he prompt letting Jonah spend the night time at his place close by so she might go see her boyfriend. Handler mentioned Fang informed him they’d simply keep put as a result of they have been drained.

“I think about that a lot,” Handler mentioned.

The decision got here at 2 a.m., as he slept. It was Jonah, asking the place he was and whether or not he had heard the collapse. Handler, who lives two buildings north, rushed over on foot however was unprepared for the scene of destruction.

“It was surreal. Dust in the air, a pile of just debris, a building sheared in half, and I have no idea where his mom is,” he mentioned.

The constructing had pancaked, flooring atop flooring, to type a 40-foot-high (12-meter-high) heap of rubble. The passer-by who had heard Jonah’s voice climbed by a pile of glass and rebar in his flip-flops and noticed the boy’s hand waving earlier than he left to get help.

The reason for the collapse stays beneath investigation by the Nationwide Institute of Requirements and Expertise in a course of that would take years. However the constructing had an extended historical past of upkeep issues and questions have been raised in regards to the high quality of its authentic development.

A Florida choose gave preliminary approval final month to a settlement of greater than $1 billion to households who misplaced family members within the collapse, for which Handler praised attorneys as a result of he mentioned it helps family keep away from years of court docket battles. A listening to Thursday, the day earlier than the anniversary of the collapse, could finalize the settlement.

Discovering a brand new regular for Jonah and his father has include its challenges, however Handler mentioned the boy was on board with beginning the charity in honor of his mom.

The foundation referred to as Phoenix Life Challenge can have its inaugural gala the day after the anniversary of the collapse and can embrace households of victims and first responders who dug by the rubble.

“These guys saved my kid’s life. I am forever indebted to them,” Handler mentioned.

The daddy mentioned that generally he feels powerless and finds it arduous to discern what’s typical conduct for a 16-year-old boy and the way a lot is affected by what he suffered.

“Not only did he survive a collapsed building falling around him, he lost his mom, and he’s got the survivor’s guilt. So it’s a whole mess of stuff that he’s dealing with,” he mentioned.

Handler mentioned he would not imagine his son surviving the devastation was an accident.

“I don’t think it was luck. I really believe he’s a miracle. I believe he was chosen for something,” he mentioned.