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Wednesday November 22nd, 2017 2:32AM

Victims on bike path came to NYC from all over the world

By The Associated Press
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The victims of the New York bike path attack reflect a city that's both a melting pot and a magnet for international visitors.

One of the dead was a young mother from Belgium. Five had traveled from Argentina to New York with a tight-knit group of classmates to celebrate the 30th anniversary of their graduation — courtesy of one of their well-heeled friends, who was among those who perished.

"They saw New York as a special place to be," said Mayor Bill de Blasio, "and we now and forever will consider them New Yorkers."

The victims were mowed down by a rental truck Tuesday afternoon near the World Trade Center. Police called it a terrorist attack, saying the driver was an Uzbek immigrant who "did it in the name of ISIS."

On Wednesday, friends and relatives began remembering the victims — and recounting the circumstances that led them to New York.

___

A CLASS REUNION

Three decades had passed since their 1987 graduation from the Polytechnic School of Rosario, Argentina. But the Argentine victims of Tuesday's truck attack, most of them architects, had remained close friends, getting together several times a year.

The five dead were among a group of 10 friends marking their graduation with a tour of New York and Boston, where at least one survivor of the group lived.

The had gone on a bike ride through Central Park on Tuesday before turning south, to lower Manhattan.

"They were pedaling in lines of two, chatting, laughing, enjoying the ride. My husband was the last one in the line, when he felt a speeding car, and then the truck that zoomed by" at high speed, Cecilia Piedrabuena, the wife of survivor Ariel Benvenuto, told an Argentine radio station. "The truck took away his friends, and he saw them all scattered on the ground."

Benvenuto called his wife and said, "Honey, this is very serious. It's a terrorist attack," she recalled. "An hour later, he called me and told me that his friends had died."

One victim, Hernan Diego Mendoza, was an architect and father of three who designed the home of his close friend, Estanislao Beas.

"The news destroyed my wife and I," Beas said. "We had a tight bond. We cared for him so much. It's incredible that this happened to him and that he was there at that time."

The Argentine foreign ministry identified the other victims as Ariel Erlij, Diego Enrique Angelini, Alejandro Damian Pagnucco and Hernan Ferruchi.

The reunion trip was partially financed by Erlij, the chief executive of Ivanar, an Argentine steel products manufacturing company, according to Argentina's La Nacion newspaper.

Another classmate, Martin Ludovico Marro, of Newton, Massachusetts, near Boston, was being treated at a Manhattan hospital.

In Rosario, a minute of silence was observed at the high school, and the light-blue and white Argentina flag was flown at half-staff. The school planned a candlelight vigil Wednesday evening.

"It hurts us to think that these are people who walked the same school halls as we did or that studied in our same classrooms," said Agustin Riccardi, a senior at the school.

Rosario, Argentina's third-largest city, is an agricultural hub and the hometown of international soccer star Lionel Messi and guerrilla leader Che Guevara.

President Mauricio Macri said Wednesday in Buenos Aires that the attack "hit all Argentines hard."

Only days earlier, before flying to the U.S., they had posed for a group photo, all of them wearing T-shirts with the word "Libre," or "Free" — meaning free from any responsibilities, said Piedrabuena, the wife of survivor Benvenuto.

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BELGIAN MOM HIT ON BIKE

Ann-Laure Decadt, 31, the mother of two young sons, including a 3-month-old, had traveled with her relatives to New York from a rural town in Belgium.

Decadt belonged to a prominent family that owns a venerable animal feed business in Staden, a town of 11,000 some 60 miles (100 kilometers) west of Brussels.

The family said in a statement that "she was riding a bike and apparently was surprised by a vehicle that came from behind." Her husband and children did not travel with her. Other family members escaped injury.

Decadt grew up in the town and was active in its social scene, taking part in the scouts movement, the youth council and village fairs, said Staden's mayor, Francesco Vanderjeugd.

"Ann-Laure meant so much to us in town," he said. "It is an attack in New York but also one on our community."

Flags flew at half-staff in the village and a condolence register was opened at the local community center Wednesday — All Saints' Day, when Belgium traditionally remembers the dead.

Johan Verstervete, a friend of the family, said: "We knew her as a very spontaneous person, very dynamic, loving her family and her children."

Vanderjeugd said he had been delighted when he first heard that Decadt was going to New York. He even sent the family a message saying: "Wow, you'll have a great time there, with Halloween and the New York marathon and all."

"And then this happens," he said.

___

A RIDE BETWEEN MEETINGS

Darren Drake, a 32-year-old project manager for Moody's Investors Service at the World Trade Center, had recently lost a lot of weight — 90 pounds. He was out for a bike ride between meetings when the truck hit and killed him.

"While other people would take cigarette or coffee breaks, he would go out and ride the bike for 15 to 20 minutes," his father, Jimmy Drake, told reporters.

Drake used to serve on the school board in New Milford, in northern New Jersey, where he was a native and lived with his parents. He had an MBA and was working toward a second master's degree, at Stevens Institute of Technology.

Jimmy Drake said he and his son were close. He drove Darren every day to the terminal in Hoboken so he could catch a train to his job in the city.

On Wednesday afternoon, police identified the eighth victim as Nicholas Cleves, 23, who died not far from his home in Manhattan's Greenwich Village. His LinkedIn profile said he was a software engineer and 2016 graduate of Skidmore College.

___

Rey reported from Rosario, Argentina. Rubinkam reported from northeastern Pennsylvania. Contributing were Associated Press writers Hernan Alvarez in Rosario; Victor Caivano, Almudena Calatrava and Luis Andres Henao in Buenos Aires; Raf Casert in Brussels; and Philip Marcelo in Boston.

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