Sister of trapped DC construction worker says he may never walk

Leidiane Guimaraes said brother Leonardo Moreto told her “he actually asked the D.C. firefighters if he was still alive.”

The man who was trapped in the wreckage of a collapsed building in D.C. last week didn’t just think he was going to die, his sister told WTOP Monday – he thought he had died.

Leonardo Moreto, 27, was rescued Thursday afternoon an hour and a half after the building he was working on, at 916 Kennedy St. NW, collapsed, trapping him under three stories of rubble. Fire officials said he was trapped against a beam, with about 8 inches of space around him.

His sister, Leidiane Guimaraes, said Moreto told her “he actually asked the D.C. firefighters if he was still alive.”

He told his sister, “You were in the movie,” Guimaraes said. He added that the notion that people who are dying see their entire life flash before them like a movie “is not a fiction. … Everybody I loved came to my mind and in front of my eyes. … I heard this voice telling me to go back.”

Guimaraes said Moreto’s spine was broken, and that the doctors told her most people in his condition don’t make it to the hospital. If his spine had gone in the other direction, she said, his aorta would have been cut, which results in death in seconds.

Moreto went in for about nine hours of surgery and is still in the hospital. Guimaraes said a doctor told her it’s not likely he’ll walk again: “He doesn’t say don’t have hope, but don’t get so many expectations.”

Her brother doesn’t know any of this yet — “He doesn’t really talk. He’s in and out with all the medications,” Guimaraes said.

‘They have no clue’

Moreto is 27, single and has no children, she said. He came to the U.S. from Brazil days before the pandemic hit, and when he had to decide where he would ride it out, he chose to stay with his sister and help with her daughters, now 3 and 2. He applied for a student visa, has been accepted at a school to improve his English, and hopes to pursue a master’s degree in civil engineering.

Guimaraes said she hasn’t told their parents yet – they live in Brazil, and can’t come to the States because of COVID-19 restrictions. She just told them Moreto lost his phone.

“So far they have no clue. And I know it sounds bad that they don’t know. But I know my parents — my mom, she cannot take it.”

They’ll find out soon enough, as Moreto’s story comes out, but Guimaraes wants it that way. She said she wants answers as to what brought the house down on her brother, and she wants him to get the physical and mental help he’s going to need: “I don’t want to see my brother laying down in bed or staying at home afterwards in a wheelchair. And I know, OK, life will continue, but he needs to adapt.”

It’s hard for her too – she said she told her husband, “I’m not happy anymore; I don’t see happiness in life.” She added, “it’s not my fault, but I feel bad, because I asked him to stay” in the U.S.

‘We need to ask for answers’

The first order of business is recovery: “Right now, the most important [is] for him to get better from the surgery, and then we’re going to do whatever we can to help him out and still have hope he’s going to be able to walk.”

After that, though, she wants answers. “Whoever’s fault it is” – the construction company or the District – “we’re going to go after. That’s one thing I can guarantee you.”

She added: “I’m not afraid. I joined the Army because I trust in the power of United States law. And because of that, I’m hiring a lawyer and we need to figure it out. We need to ask for answers. … Yes, it was raining, but come on – the building doesn’t collapse like that.”

She had nothing but praise for the doctors who took care of her brother, and especially for the firefighters who pulled him from the wrecked building:

“You saved my brother’s life. You brought him back to me, back to our family, and we are going to be thankful forever.”

Guimaraes has started a GoFundMe campaign for Moreto’s expenses.

Rick Massimo

Rick Massimo came to WTOP, and to Washington, in 2012 after having lived in Providence, R.I., since he was a child. He went to George Washington University as an undergraduate and is regularly surprised at the changes to the city since that faraway time.

Mike Murillo

Mike Murillo is a reporter and anchor at WTOP. Before joining WTOP in 2013, he worked in radio in Orlando, New York City and Philadelphia.

Like WTOP on Facebook and follow @WTOP on Twitter to engage in conversation about this article and others.

Get breaking news and daily headlines delivered to your email inbox by signing up here.

© 2021 WTOP. All Rights Reserved. This website is not intended for users located within the European Economic Area.

More from WTOP

Log in to your WTOP account for notifications and alerts customized for you.

Sign up