SILVER SPRING, Md. — The grieving family of a promising 25-year-old woman who died in a high-rise fire in Silver Spring said they were stunned this week to receive a condolence letter from President Joe Biden and First Lady Jill Biden.
“As you go through this impossible pain, know that you are not alone,” the President and First Lady wrote to the parents of Melanie Diaz.
Diaz is remembered by her family and fiance as a vibrant 25-year-old from Florida who was drawn to D.C. in hopes of impacting global policy on climate change.
She died on Feb. 18 during a chaotic evacuation trying to rescue her dogs after a fire erupted at the Arrive Silver Spring high-rise on Georgia Avenue.
Melanie's father said he thought at first the letter from the White House was possibly marketing mail.
Cesar Diaz choked back tears as he spoke about the unexpected message from the Bidens about his daughter.
“We didn't know how much impact she made outside her job,” Cesar Diaz said.
“My wife, my son and I, we are devastated. I don’t want anybody else to feel what I feel right now," Diaz added.
Melanie's parents are immigrants from Venezuela. Her father is a home improvement contractor and her mom is a healthcare worker.
Diaz earned a full scholarship to Georgetown University and graduated from the Walsh School of Foreign Service. During college, she earned a coveted internship at NASA to work on global climate disaster response.
She was a program assistant at the Energy and Environment Program at the Aspen Institute in Washington when she died.
The Aspen Institute is a premiere Washington think tank for global leaders.
Her family is not sure who brought the death to the attention of President Biden
Fiancé Michael Sobalvarro believes her achievements and humble background represent the 'American Dream.'
"Her parents immigrated to this country. They believe in the power of hard work and being honest. And Melanie just took that model and she applied it everywhere she went," Sobalvarro said.
"I think what it wasn't so much her accolades that got the attention of the President, but who she was as an individual -- it's that radical optimism and big spirits and big heart mixed in with that hard work and ambition."
Melanie's father said he hopes the attention by the President puts focus on fire safety in aging buildings nationwide and fuels reforms to require sprinklers in buildings like Arrive Silver Spring everywhere in the US.
The three-alarm fire injured at least 19 other people and left hundreds displaced.
Firefighters said the blaze started on the seventh floor. Diaz and her dogs were found on the ninth floor of the stairwell, two floors below where she lived. She was killed by thick smoke, her family said.
The building, which authorities say was constructed in the 1960s, is not required to have a sprinkler system.
"There are no words to ease the shattering pain of losing a child — it is a feeling that no parent should ever have to know," The Bidens' letter said. "As you go through this impossible pain, know that you are not alone. When the loss is too heavy to bear, we pray you are able to lean on the love and compassion of family and friends to shoulder the weight together," the letter reads.
"It will take time, but we promise you the day will come when the memory of Melanie will bring a smile to your lips before it brings a tear to your eye. Our prayer for you and your family is that this day comes sooner rather than later."
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