An animal lover, an environmentalist, and a crusader for a better world. These are only some of the ways family and friends of Melanie Diaz described her at a vigil held in her memory following her death Saturday morning.
Diaz died in the Arrive Silver Spring apartment fire, along with her dog, Ella, and Sammy, her boyfriend, Michael Sobalvarro’s, dog. Despite many tears, Diaz’s vigil was filled with positivity and love from those in and around her life.
“She was a gentle warrior,” Sobalvarro said. “She always said, ‘you don’t have to be the loudest voice in the room, you have to be the right one and know how to use it correctly. We’ve all been touched by Melanie in many different ways. I hope that we can continue to embody and for her, let the way she touched us live through our actions. She’ll be sorely missed.”
The vigil Thursday evening was held in front of the apartment’s leasing office. It was attended by Sobalvarro, Diaz’s brother Cesar and her parents, Zuleika Madera and Cesar Diaz, who drove 14 hours from Florida on Sunday. They were joined by about 50 to 60 others offering their support.
A memorial on a street post across from the leasing office depicted photos of Diaz, Sammy and Ella and facts about her life.
Possibly the only negative thing that could be said about Diaz was that she was too trusting.
“In terms of this building, it was her home, but she probably put too much trust in it, unfortunately,” Sobalvarro said. “Not all the units had sprinklers, they didn’t have smoke detectors, they’ve yet to say her name.”
Diaz, originally from Coconut Creek, Florida, dreamed of making the world a better place for mankind and animals, family members recalled.
She was not only accepted into Georgetown University but received a full academic scholarship, they said. After she earned a bachelor’s degree in foreign service, culture, and politics, she landed a position working at Aspen Institute in Washington, D.C.
Although Madera said she always tried to teach her daughter to be safe and never imagined a horror like the fire, she was overwhelmed by the number of people who have helped her and her family in this difficult time.
“My daughter always changed lives,” Madera said. “I never knew [there was] all the support from the community. We really appreciate that.”
Madera said the DoubleTree hotel across from the complex reached out to them to also offer support while they are in Maryland.
Moving forward, the most important thing to Madera and Diaz is change. Sprinklers were not required when the apartment building was constructed over 50 years ago. Currently, there are about 80 high-rise residential buildings in the county, at least that old that don’t have sprinklers, according to multiple news outlets. The state will not require all buildings to have sprinklers until 2033.
Ten years is far too long for Diaz’s family.
“What we want is [for them to] change the law immediately, because this is not fair,” Madera said. “She liked justice, she liked equality; today, my voice is her voice, it’s everybody’s voice.”
Diaz’s life ended much like how she lived it: helping others. According to Sobalvarro, although she lived on the 11th floor of the apartment, she was found on the ninth floor hugging Sammy and Ella, both of whom she wrapped in her jacket.
“She was a giver; she was a fighter,” Sobalvarro said. “She fought her way from Florida to Georgetown; she fought her way to get her internship. She stopped for other people and even in her last moment, she fought to protect the most vulnerable and that’s how I want you guys to remember her.”
There will be a memorial Mass at Georgetown University at 2 p.m. Saturday.
Diaz’s father said the family eventually plans to spread her ashes on a beach in Florida, but they are still looking for a place.
Cesar Diaz said it was only in December that he and his daughter were talking about if they die, they agreed to have their cremated remains scattered on a beach.
“Even if you go anywhere in the planet, it’s water, it’s everywhere, so you’re going to remember the person,” he said.
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