In Memoriam: Mourning Our Hurricane Losses

January 8, 2013 | CUNY Matters, The University

Flags flew at half-staff at University campuses in the days following Hurricane Sandy, honoring three students and a recent graduate who died during the superstorm.

Lauren (Lola) Abraham, 23, who had transferred to LaGuardia Community College from Lehman College, was electrocuted by a snapped power line as she went out to take photographs.

John Filipowicz Jr., 20, a baccalaureate candidate at College of Staten Island, died embracing his father as the tide surged through their home.

Jessie Streich-Kest and her friend since middle school, Jacob Vogelman, died when a tree fell on them as they walked her dog during the storm. She graduated last summer with a master’s degree in special education from Hunter College’s Urban Teacher Residency Program. He was a second-year MFA student at Brooklyn College.

Chancellor Matthew Goldstein voiced his “profound condolences to the families and friends” of these four victims, as well as his “deepest concern and strongest support for those who may have suffered personal or property loss during this difficult time.”

Lauren Abraham

Lauren Abraham, 23, who was known as Lola, had transferred from Lehman College to LaGuardia Community College. Although she ran a home business as a makeup artist and worked for several professional agencies, she had hoped to become a teacher.

Her boyfriend, Ernst Alvarez Jr., said that one of the last memories they shared was creating spooky face makeup designs for Halloween. “She was just one of those people who once she was in the zone, you couldn’t slow her down,” he told DNAInfo.com.

At about 8 p.m. on Monday, Oct. 29, when a neighbor said the weather was fierce and power was out, she left the home in Richmond Hill, Queens, where she lived with her parents and walked down the rain-drenched street to take photographs. She appears to have come in contact with a downed, sparking power line, and died.

More than 100 mourners attended her service at the Christian Cultural Center in the Flatlands section of Brooklyn, according to DNAInfo. “Most of us are either smart or creative,” her brother, Corey Abraham, said at the service. “She was fortunate enough to be both.”

Relatives told DNAInfo that Abraham had put her education on hold to pursue cosmetology. But her mother, Kim, said she was planning on ultimately becoming a mathematics professor like her idol and stepfather, who died in 2009.

Abraham was also described as a devoutly religious person who constantly nagged them to go to the non-denominational Christian church for services that resounded with gospel songs and poetry readings by her friends and relatives.

John Filipowicz Jr.

On Staten Island, John Filipowicz Jr., a junior at the College of Staten Island, died in the arms of his father, a retired corrections officer as water reached 10 feet high in the basement of their home.

“When I found them they were in an embrace,” John Sr.’s brother, Neil Filipowicz, said in a narrative here compiled from DNAInfo.com and dailymail.co.uk. “I crawled through a hole in the wall that the water had made. I shone my flashlight from right to left and then I saw a hand, to my left. I was praying it was a doll’s hand …. My nephew was holding my brother and my brother was clutching him into his chest as if they knew they were dying.”

The elder Filipowicz had stayed in the evacuation zone to watch over his house, as he had done after weathering Hurricane Irene last year and previous storms, the Daily Mail reported.

Neil Filipowicz related that John Jr.’s twin brother, Joseph, had spoken with his twin that day and “tried to get him to leave. He told him: ‘I’m not leaving Daddy.’”

“It was a bond how it’s supposed to be with your kids, between a son and a father,” Neil Filipowicz said. “They loved each other so much.”

Filipowicz, whom DNAInfo called a star athlete, and his father were big sports fans. They were buried wearing their Jets jerseys; John Sr. wore Joe Klecko’s #73, John Jr. Dustin Keller’s #81.

Jacob Vogelman
Jessie Streich-Kest

Jacob Vogelman and a friend from middle school, Jessie Streich-Kest, both 24, tragically were in the wrong place at the wrong time with her 2-year-old mutt, Max, which she had rescued from a shelter. As they walked through the Ditmas Park section of Brooklyn, hurricane-force winds toppled a tree, crushing them and sending the dog to a veterinary hospital with minor injuries.

The friends, not romantically involved, were buried in separate ceremonies.

Just five weeks later, her grieving family suffered the death from cancer of her father, Jon Kest, executive director of New York Committee for Change, which advocates on behalf of poor and low-wage workers — causes that also drew his daughter.

Jessie Streich-Kest, a graduate of the University of Pennsylvania, had earned an M.A. in special education last summer with a 3.9 GPA at Hunter College’s Urban Teacher Residency Program, a partnership with New Visions for Public Schools. She was in her first year of teaching at Bushwick High School for Social Justice.

Previously, The New York Times reported, she had done activist work with New Yorkers for Clean, Livable & Safe Streets and had protested the city’s horse-drawn carriages.

“Jessie was very friendly and laid back, but she was also driven,” Tom Salgo, who was Max’s usual dog-walker and had gone to high school with her, told the Times. “She went to school in Bushwick every day with students who were difficult. She had some sort of drive to help them, despite the obstacles in the way. She got along with anybody.”

In a blog post at my.hsj.org, John Faciano, her communication arts teacher at Murrow High School, from which she graduated in 2006, recalled her working on the yearbook and participating in the Senior Advanced Placement Seminar he ran. “Jessie spoke freely, argued logically, had strength and conviction in her opinions, yet never dominated a discussion. She viewed the class as a team working together towards a goal of understanding.”

Jacob Vogelman, known to friends and family as Jake, had earned a bachelor’s degree in theater design at SUNY/Buffalo in 2010. He had not let dyslexia stop him from graduating cum laude and was studying lighting design in Brooklyn College’s MFA program.

“Jake was a positive and upbeat student,” said Theater Department chair Kip Marsh. “He always had a smile on his face and enjoyed his studies and Brooklyn College.”

“He brought people together,” said Mary Beth Easley, one of Vogelman’s professors. “He was willing to show and teach others. He reached out. Everybody knew him.”

Vogelman was lighting designer for the play “The Altruists,” by Nicky Silver, and was scheduled to fill the same role for Rajiv Joseph’s “Gruesome Playground Injuries.”

“He was an amazing individual,” recalled fellow MFA student Brian Kafel. “He was very talented and had big dreams.” In an article about his death on the University at Buffalo’s website, a college friend, Erin Weaver, says, “It’s just amazing the overwhelming amount of love on his Facebook wall – everybody has a story with him….”

Another Buffalo friend, Nicole Benoit, recalled how he continued working on shows even when an injury temporarily caused him to walk with a cane. The injury “never impeded his agility or spirit – you would still find him in the depths of the jungle of a backstage props/scene closet or working on the grids high above the stages, joyful as always,” Benoit said.