By: Taja Whitted
On a late afternoon in early March, public safety officers appeared at Professor Bettina Carbonell’s classroom. They wanted to know if Alexis (Jordy) Salas was inside.
“He said it was just a family matter, but then the other public safety officer came along and reported that they had checked and Jordy’s ID hadn’t been swiped. That detail stuck in my mind,” said Carbonell.
She did not know it that day, but it was later confirmed that he had been a casualty of the explosion in East Harlem.
“I didn’t know it was an explosion, I thought it was an earthquake or something but when I woke up it was on the news and I live six blocks away,” said Simone Whitaker, a criminal justice major.
Salas, 22 and a transfer student at John Jay College, was confirmed dead on March 14. His death was the result of an explosion on Park Avenue and 116th street in East Harlem on March 12. According to a New York Times article, the explosion was a result of “small gas leaks below the pavement.” Two buildings collapsed that day with eight in total confirmed dead.
On March 20, almost two weeks after the explosion, family and members of the East Harlem community arrived at the Ortiz Funeral Home to mourn Salas.
Inside Chapel B laid a mahogany casket decorated with yellow ribbons and swirls of blue and yellow roses next to Salas’s wedding photo and other significant moments in his life.
The chapel quickly filled to capacity with many squeezing in while others lined the stairs down to the second floor lobby, all waiting to say goodbye to their brother and friend.
Pastor Thomas Perez, head of the Spanish Christian Church, started the service by saying, “every time he greeted me it was with a big hug, he filled a special place that will not be filled again.”
Before the ceremony closed, guests were invited to share memories they had with Salas. They painted a picture of his many attributes: caring, fatherly, loving and occasionally mischievous. One friend recalled the moment Salas gushed about his future wife, leading Jennifer Salas to speak of their young romance. They had met at the age of 14 and soon became best friends. When they grew older, their love for each other turned romantic and they got married. “I remember when I told him he would be a father,” she said in a gentle tone, “he cried with joy.”
Jennifer Salas continued fondly talking of Jordy and his beloved dog Dash. The mourners took relief in laughing at the things young men do with their dogs. Stories were told of sleepovers and fatherly moments. His mother was the last to speak and her words quieted the room.
“We had a close relationship. He liked nice things, sneakers, t-shirts, like an ordinary boy, but if a friend liked something of his he would just give it to them,” said Rosa Salas.
Kenneth Holmes, the dean of students, Lynette Cook-Francis, the vice president of student affairs, Professor Carbonell and former English professor Margaret Tabb were in attendance. “It was so wonderful too that the pastor asked if there was anyone in the audience who didn’t speak Spanish…so I raised my hand and said ‘do you speak Spanish Marnie?’ said Carbonell, referring to Professor Tabb. “She said no.”
From that point on the service was translated and many were able to fully understand the depth of Jordy’s character.
“He was very active in his church. He was well loved in his community, very giving, loving husband, Sunday school teacher, soon to be father, loving brother, good friend and it was surreal for me to sort of get to know him after he passed away and what a great person he was,” said Holmes.
While Jordy’s friends and family knew him well, at school he was very quiet. Each semester professors are immersed in a class filled with personalities, some who need more encouragement than others to break out of their shell.
“After some point you get to know everyone, but Jordy was quiet so by now and it’s only a couple of weeks later he might have said or done something,” said Carbonell.
Carbonell explained that Jordy’s fresh arrival at John Jay hadn’t given him enough time to connect with other students.
At his funeral she took note of his involvement in the community. “You could see his life at home and with the church probably took up a lot of his time, so I don’t think he really had a chance to form relationships here,” she said.
Back at campus students contemplated ways to remember their fellow colleague and whether John Jay was doing enough. For Forensic Psychology major Kelley Peluso, they were.
“I thought it was nice that they sent out the email. It had everything I needed to know,” said Peluso.
Peluso is referring to an email that was sent to the student body by Cook-Francis on March 18, it stated the date of Jordy’s funeral and where to send donations.
Some, however, believed more could be done, like Criminology major Eric Colon.“I don’t think John Jay is doing enough possibly to help the family instead of sending an email,” said Colon.
To remedy the unease, Student Council President Clinton Dyer explained that there are plans in the making.
“We are working on having a vigil to happen in front of the 9/11 memorial. Right now the family is putting him to rest and we wanted to give them some time so that we can have them at the memorial,” said Dyer.
Carbonell had Jordy in her LIT 260 class, an introduction to literary study. Before his passing, Jordy had turned in an assignment based on the short story “Everyday Use” by Alice Walker. The tale covers an African American family and the quilt they have handed down through generations. It is essentially a story of heritage.“That paper has taken on a whole new meaning to me and it’s a good paper, and it is very promising in terms of who he would become as an English major, as a writer. He wanted to be a lawyer so there’s that part…” said Carbonell as she folded her hands onto her lap.
For Carbonell, it was a slow realization that she had lost one of her students. “I heard nothing about the building collapses that day and it wasn’t until I got home that night and it was late…I was watching the 11 p.m. news and I saw the story and at that point they weren’t mentioning any names…for some reason I woke up the next morning knowing that those two things were connected,” she said.
Even though Jordy is gone, and his family mourns for him, he is around. He exists in them, his unborn son and a piece of writing that will be treasured for times to come.
“So you know there are traces I would say, there are traces of Jordy,” said Carbonell.