Oresme Gil Guerra grew up in a small neighborhood near Havana, Cuba, in the early 1960s.
His home was one of the more privileged ones — it was the only one in the neighborhood with a television. All the kids on his block, who varied in ages, would come and watch.
One of the usual guests at the time was Mario Gonzalez, 65, a childhood friend of Guerra’s who now lives just eight blocks from the collapse at Champlain Towers South.
Police identified Guerra’s body in the rubble on July 10; the remains of his wife Beatriz, known as Betty, were recovered on July 8. The couple moved to that building three months before the collapse and lived on the ninth floor. They have two children, Michelle and Michael, and one grandchild, Gonzalez said.
“I know from the bottom of my heart, as soon as my dad realized what was going on, the first thing he did was just grab Betty for dear life,” said daughter Michelle Guerra.
The couple was planning to move out of the Champlain condominium soon and closed a lease on another beachfront property the week prior. Guerra said the two took a day off to paint their new home and began delivering furniture there as well.
“They were right there. They were about to move out,” she said.
Betty Guerra, 52, was a math teacher at G. Holmes Braddock Senior High in west Miami-Dade and had a profound impact on her students. Former student, Vanessa Brito, said she was more than a teacher; the students saw her as a mentor and friend.
“She was happy all the time and it made you happy just to be around her,” she said.
Guerra was known as Ms. Anton at the time and was one of the youngest teachers at the school. She taught at Braddock until 2001, the same year Brito graduated, she said. Many of the students loved having lunch with Guerra and even kept in touch for years after they graduated.
Her class posted through a Braddock Facebook page, which she would regularly use to comment and encourage her students.
“She really did help make you feel like you were more than just a person in her class for an hour and 15 minutes,” Brito said.
Guerra was the first adult Brito came out to in high school. One day, she was walking across the courtyard, and Guerra knew something was off immediately.
Her school friends weren’t welcoming to her when she came out, but Guerra sat down with her and reassured her that things were going to work out. Brito said she was a safe harbor for her when she felt like there was nowhere else to go.
“She helped me feel secure about being open about who I was in high school,” she said.
Oresme Gil Guerra’s father was a judge and his mother taught Guerra and his sister English when they were still living in Cuba, before migrating to the U.S. in the late 1970s.
He was a mechanical engineer and worked in consulting companies throughout his last few years. He married Betty in 2017 and they shared several properties together including their own cosmetic store in Miami, his daughter told the Daily Beast.
“I think they worked so they could travel. They loved to travel,” she said.
As children, Gonzalez and Guerra hung from the branches of tall trees in front of his house and played basketball. They passed the time picking juicy, golden mangoes and throwing stones in standing water.
“He was a person that transmitted happiness and optimism,” he said. “He showed how one should always have to fight to obtain what you want in life.”
While they lost touch for years before leaving Cuba, they reunited in Miami.
“In my family, my uncles called him ‘risita’ because that was always what he wore on his face,” said Gonzalez, explaining the origin of the nickname, which roughly translates as “smiley” in English.
Guerra, 60, was ambitious, always trying to build on the successes and achievements in his life. He started out living in a working-class neighborhood in Hialeah, and had just recently moved to the beachfront condominium in Surfside, Gonzalez said.
Michelle Guerra recently created a GoFundMe to help pay for expenses her family is now facing.
She is remembering the tough values her father instilled in her.
“That’s what my dad would say, ‘That’s life, mija,’” she said.