NEW YORK CITY — Tom Elsman can barely process the grief of losing his daughter in last week’s Times Square rampage. But he made sure to write a letter thanking the people of New York City.
Not far from where 18-year-old Alyssa Elsman was struck and killed by a violent driver in Times Square, strangers set up a memorial with flowers, candles and hundreds of hand-written messages.
“NEW YORK WILL NEVER FORGET YOU Alyssa,” a sign on the memorial reads.
Her father will never forget New York, either.
“There is no words that can express our gratitude with the outpouring of love and support this city has shown us. Our medical staff, the NYPD and most of all YOU,” Tom Elsman wrote in a framed letter placed atop the memorial.
“This impromptu memorial dedicated to our daughter and seeing and talking to many of you has helped me cope with our loss. I have met so many people from different countries, religions, creeds, etc…it doesn’t matter…you have shown us that when you remove bias…racism….and ignorance…WE ARE ALL ONE.”
The Elsman family is from Kalamazoo, Michigan. Shortly after New Yorkers set up a memorial for Alyssa, her father said he was overwhelmed by the generosity of the city and its police department.
“The NYPD, absolutely greatest guys in the world, they take care of our family, they went and got pizzas for us, they’ve given all the kids in the family they give them hats,” Tom Elsman told CNN affiliate WWMT.
The city was also was one of Alyssa’s favorite vacation spots. Last year, she posted a photo of the bustling crowd and bright lights of Times Square. On Thursday, a driver plowed into pedestrians in Times Square, injuring at least 22 people and killing Elsman.
“Alyssa loved this city…she loved Times Square,” her father wrote in his letter. “She would appreciate all your kind words but she would also tell us all to get back up and continue. That’s how full of life my daughter was. This city and our hearts are scarred, cut to the core, but in true New York City fashion…We will heal. We will prevail…and we will never forget.”
Tom Elsman’s letter also addressed his daughter directly.
“Alyssa Lynn Elsman…my beautiful 18 year old girl. I look at myself and will never understand how I could ever have made such an angel. I’m glad you got your mothers looks, ” he wrote. “I have a hole in my heart that can never be filled. My world changed when you came into it and it is unexplainable with you leaving it. I love you kid. Just no words.”
The driver of the 2009 Honda Accord — Richard Rojas, 26, of the Bronx — is in custody, New York Police Commissioner James O’Neill said. Rojas has been arrested twice in New York — in 2015 and 2008 — for drunken driving, he said.