SURFSIDE, Fla. — Gazing at the mountain of rubble that had buried her father, uncle and dozens of others, a 12-year-old girl moved away from her relatives, sat down by herself and pulled out her phone. She opened a collection of Psalms and began to pray.
Elisheva Cohen’s moment of reflection at the site of the Florida condominium collapse captivated the Surfside mayor and led to an introduction to President Biden, who asked to meet her Thursday when he arrived to console families affected by the disaster.
For days, families were kept away from the collapse site, which had been deemed unsafe. Then earlier this week, relatives were taken there briefly. Some shouted the names of loved ones and friends, hoping to hear their cries for help. Others cried.
Elisheva sat down alone, away from her mother and brother, and began to read prayers.
Surfside Mayor Charles Burkett soon noticed her. He knelt down beside her to ask if she was OK.
“Yes” the girl told him.
“And that really brought it home to me,” Burkett said. “She wasn’t crying. She was just lost. She didn’t know what to do, what to say, who to talk to.”
The mayor said the most moving moment of Biden’s visit was when he shared Elisheva’s story with the president.
“I wanted him to know and see the face of that little girl who is praying for her father across from the rubble,” he said. “He looked at me and said, ‘Would you please bring her to me right now?’”
Police went to get Elisheva. Biden walked up to her and they hugged.