With the help of two compassionate New Jersey Transit police officers, Jose Lopez, 61, was reunited with his daughters after being estranged from his family for 24 years.
Kristy Viviani was just 17 years old when she last saw her father. Her younger sister, Angela Viviani, was only 10.
The sisters’ parents had separated when they were ages 8 and 1, respectively, and the time they spent with their father became less and less frequent.
Lopez eventually moved to Miami and lost contact with his daughters.
He later suffered a series of strokes and ended up homeless, which made reconnecting with his family all the more difficult.
Still, Lopez thought of his family often, and hated the empty feeling of estrangement that occupied his heart.
Determined to find his daughters and renew his relationship with them, Lopez used his Social Security money to to go back to New Jersey.
Once he arrived at the Secaucus Junction transit station in New Jersey, Lopez wasn’t exactly sure what to do next.
But two NJ Transit police officers, Josue Robles and Sean Pfeifer, stepped in to help after noticing Lopez looking a bit aimless at the train station.
“I asked him if he was looking for help, and he said yes,” Robles told NorthJersey.com.
Robles and Pfeifer worked diligently to track down possible phone numbers of family members, and Pfeifer began leaving voicemail messages on Lopez’s behalf.
“Mr. Lopez was intent on finding his family, and I wanted to make sure that I was there to help him with doing that,” Pfeifer told WLNY.
When Angela Viviani first listened to the voicemail message left on her phone, she almost dismissed it as a scam.
“I was actually in a parking lot and I had checked my voicemail,” Angela told WLNY. “And I’m like, is this a scam or something?”
A tearful, heartwarming reunion! NJ Transit Police reunite a homeless man with his family after 24 years!! Jose Lopez not only got to hug his daughters, he met his grandkids for the first time! Lopez was given a shave and a haircut, plus new clothes for the big reunion moment. pic.twitter.com/puIYKRp2QW
— NJ TRANSIT (@NJTRANSIT) August 20, 2019
But Angela soon learned that her sister Kristy had also gotten a voicemail about her father, and the two sisters knew he really was back in New Jersey.
Filled with a bit of anxiety and trepidation, the Viviani sisters brought their children — grandchildren Lopez had never met — for an emotional reunion with their father.
Kristy was in disbelief that her father was really present.
“I was getting used to the idea of never seeing him again,” Kristy said.
She and her father said the same thing to each other when they finally came face to face: “I thought I’d never see you again.”
Lopez, freshly shaved and wearing new clothes, emotionally embraced his daughters for the first time in 24 years, and his grandchildren for the first time ever.
“It’s been empty without them for the last 20 years,” Lopez said through tears. “I hated feeling that way. That’s no way a person should ever feel.”
But now, he feels much better.
“I’m thinking, I’m in Heaven, I’ve got my two best girls,” Lopez said.
As Lopez settles back into his New Jersey life, he will be working with the PATH Program run by the Mental Health Association of Essex and Morris, to help find housing and some stability.
Pfeifer, who witnessed the emotional reunion, says he will always remember Lopez’s story.
“By far, this will be the most memorable moment of my career,” he said.
The Viviani sisters are eager to rekindle their relationship with their dad.
“We get to try and make up for lost time,” Kristy said. “It feels like a dream.”
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