(Courtesy of ABC News)
Robert Peraza Becomes the Face of Grief on 9/11 Anniversary
A photo of a father’s private moment mourning the son he lost on 9/11 went viral today much to his surprise and that of his family, who said today they wouldn’t have otherwise known about his quiet prayer.
Robert Peraza, 68, had been selected as a reader at the tenth anniversary ceremony Sunday, but before the memorial opened to family members, Peraza took a moment to walk near the memorial’s North Pool around 9:45 a.m.
It was there that he found his son’s name: Robert David Peraza, who was killed when American Airlines flight 11 crashed into the World Trade Center. Peraza had been working on the 104th floor of the North Tower.
“It was very, very emotional,” he said.
Peraza, thinking he was alone, bent down on one knee, placed one hand over his son’s name and prayed.
“I was just honoring Rob,” said Peraza, who is Catholic. “I was saying a prayer for his soul.”
Justin Lane, a press pool photographer, took Peraza’s picture and it soon appeared around the world, showing up today on the cover of the Washington Post, the New York Daily News, and the New York Post to name a few.
Robert Peraza’s son Neil Peraza, 38, a finance and accounting director at Hilton, had brought his 7-year-old daughter to New York to attend the anniversary ceremony. They were waiting in the area designated for family members along with Robert Peraza’s wife, brother, and two cousins.
“The next thing you know my cell phone would not stop buzzing,” Neil Peraza said. “My wife said, ‘You have got to see this picture.’”
When he saw his father kneeling in front of his brother’s name, the image told him more than words ever could have.
“I was like, ‘Oh my god.’ It was breathtaking. It kind of sums up how a lot of us were feeling,” he said. “My heart breaks for my dad and my mom — the two of them especially. As a parent now myself, I cannot imagine losing a child.”
Neil Peraza and his father are both quick to say 30-year-old Rob Peraza did not “die” on 9/11. They say he was murdered.
“It was a murderous act that happened on 9/11 and we should not forget that,” said Robert Peraza, who is now retired from his job as a systems manager at Proctor and Gamble.
Neil Peraza described his brother Rob as “the life of the party,” an outgoing, gregarious guy with an infectious laugh.
“One of the toughest parts for me, as I’ve gotten older, is he would have been a hell of an uncle,” Neil Peraza said.
He says the family still talks about Rob frequently, and Neil Peraza’s three children all know who “Uncle Rob” was.
It’s a sentiment Robert Peraza expressed during the brief time he was allowed to say a few words about his son, after reading the names of 10 others: “Dearest Robert we love you and pray for you every day. We will never forget, we will never forget, we will never forget.”
So far the family has raised about $250,000 in scholarship money for Catholic college St. Bonaventure through yearly golf tournament fundraisers and the university’s website.
Since 9/11 three incoming students from St. Bonaventure who play rugby, one of Rob Peraza’s passions, have benefited from the need-based scholarship.
“Right now we’re at a level where we’re giving out half tuition. It’s a pretty big deal,” Neil Peraza said.
The family also established a scholarship for students at Norwich High School in New York.
“The issue here is to honor Rob,” his father said. “I’m just an instrument for celebrating his life.”
In August 2001, Peraza’s son had written a four-page letter to his family, “saying how wonderful his life was,” Robert Peraza told ABCNews.com.
His son was planning on getting engaged, and enjoying his job as a bond trader at Cantor Fitzgerald where 657 others also died on 9/11.
Rob Peraza had been scheduled to run the New York City Marathon in 2001, and assigned number 1461. He never got to run that race, but in the 10 years since 9/11 a relative has run the race using his number. This year it will be his sister, Joan.
Had Rob seen the picture of his father taken Sunday, Neil said, “I’m sure Rob would be really sad because we’re all sad. But I think Rob would be really proud that as a family we’re celebrating his life every day.”
The Perazas revisited the 9/11 memorial today when it opened to the public, and paused once more in front of the North Pool, to pay their respects to all 2,753 people who died after two hijacked planes crashed into the World Trade Center.
“After 9/11 my wife and I realized that life continues and you have two children you have to live for,” Robert Peraza said. “Rob was the kind of young man who would have been very upset if my wife and I wilted.”