UF alum's family searches for news about him in Haiti

Published: Wednesday, January 20, 2010 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Tuesday, January 19, 2010 at 11:42 p.m.

University of Florida alumnus Brendan Beck sent an e-mail from Haiti to his family nine minutes before the earthquake struck. That's the last anyone heard from him.

Beck was staying in the Hotel Montana, which collapsed in the quake. It's the same place where Lynn University faculty and staff were staying, and also remain missing.

Brendan's father, Barry, said the U.S. State Department has been unable to tell families even what happened to bodies that were recovered.

"We have no idea where our children are," he said.

While Beck's family expressed frustration over the absence of information, they've filled the void communicating through Facebook and Twitter.

A Facebook page dedicated to Hotel Montana guests has been the online equivalent of the posters outside Ground Zero following the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. Families and friends post information about loved ones and hope for news.

That wasn't enough for Barry Beck. He traveled to the Dominican Republic along with other family members and Forrest Masters, an assistant professor of civil and coastal engineering at UF, who is friends with Brendan.

Barry Beck said traveling to the hotel in Haiti is considered logistically impossible, so he's had to rely on the U.S. Embassy in Santa Domingo for information.

"Basically, what we know right now is that they know nothing," he said.

Friday was Brendan's 35th birthday. He graduated from UF with a civil engineering degree in 1998 and was considering returning to seek his doctorate, Masters said.

Brendan's mother, Sally Baldwin, said she's become "fried and exhausted" in trying to seek information.

She said the State Department directed her to a Web site where she entered details about her son, receiving a canned reply. She's now working with her U.S. congressman to find out more.

The only information has come from guests rescued from the rubble, whose friends subsequently have posted details online.

One of Brendan Beck's co-workers was pulled out the day after the quake and said she thought he was on the second floor of the five-story hotel when it struck. But Baldwin said a rescue team didn't find him there.

Brendan, a former Peace Corps volunteer in Africa, was working for a company affiliated with the U.S. Agency for International Development. His plane landed in Port-au-Prince en route to a city farther from the quake's epicenter, but the connecting flight was canceled.

"They weren't even supposed to stop there," Baldwin said.

Barry Beck said he was told that rescue operations are ending and shifting to recovery. After a week, he said, the plan is to bulldoze the site.

He wants to do whatever he can to make sure his son's body is recovered first.

"I want my son back, and I want to bury him in Florida - in U.S. soil," he said.

Read the blog at chalkboard.blogs.gainesville.com. Get updates at twitter.com/<0x000A>nathancrabbe.

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