New York

Dad of Young Woman Killed in Car Rampage Leaves Letter in Times Square: ‘I Have a Hole in My Heart'

What to Know

  • The father of 18-year-old Alyssa Elsman, the tourist killed in the Times Square rampage last week, has left a letter at a makeshift memorial
  • "I have a hole in my heart," he writes, while thanking the strangers who have supported him and his family and offered condolences
  • The driver, 26-year-old Richard Rojas, remains jailed on suicide watch at Rikers Island

The father of the 18-year-old tourist killed in the Times Square car rampage last week has left a touching letter at the makeshift memorial that's sprung up in the days since the horrific incident.

The framed letter sits atop a concrete NYPD barrier, amid flowers and toys honoring Alyssa Elsman of Portage, Michigan, who was killed when 26-year-old driver Richard Rojas zipped down the sidewalk for several blocks last Thursday. 

In the letter, Thomas Elsman describes his grief and heartache, and expresses gratitude to those who have supported the family. 

"I have met so many people from different countries, religions, creeds, etc... you have shown us that when you remove bias, racism and ignorance, WE ARE ALL ONE," he writes. "Your condolences have been sincere and taken to heart." 

Part of the letter also describes how Elsman loved New York City: "She loved Times Square. She would appreciate all your kind words but would also tell you all to get back up and continue, that's how full of life my daughter was." 

The letter ends, "I have a hole in my heart... I love you kid... Love you, love you, love you." 

Kim Spears, who works nearby, had tears in her eyes after reading the letter. 

"Everyone feels terrible, and everyone feels awful because you hate to know that somebody came to visit New York -- she's young, she just graduated from high school," she said. "It's just terrible."

On the police barrier, others have left messages saying, "Rest easy," "Lots of love," "God bless you" and "Rest in peace." 

Carlos Cardenas, a tourist from San Francisco, said at the site Monday, "It's just very touching. It's just so sad that something like that could happen here." 

Elsman's 13-year-old sister Ava was also critically injured in the accident and had been at Bellevue Hospital with a broken pelvis and a collapsed lung.

Six other victims continue to be treated at Bellevue, one of whom remains in critical condition, a hospital spokeswoman says. 

Rojas was taken into custody after barreling into the lunch-hour crowd on Seventh Avenue shortly before noon Thursday, according to police. Officials and sources say Rojas, who has a history of DWI arrests, made a U-turn on Seventh Avenue at 42nd Street and started speeding down the sidewalk for about 3-and-a-half blocks, mowing down pedestrians before crashing into a traffic pole.

Rojas told New York Post from Rikers Island Saturday that he was "trying to get help."

"I wanted to fix my life."

The former Navy man told police that he smoked marijuana laced with PCP and has a history of DWI arrests, including one where he was driving faster than 99 mph in a 50 mph zone, police said.

He said he remembered eating with his mother at their Highbridge home Thursday morning when he decided to go for a drive. He said he couldn't remember what was going through his mind during the drive.

“The last thing I remember is driving in my car,” he recalled. “Then, I woke up in the precinct ... I was terrified.”

Rojas also told New York Post that he wants to watch the videos of Thursday's rampage to "verify that I'm the person," he said.

Rojas is charged with second-degree murder, 20 counts of second-degree attempted murder and five counts of aggravated vehicular homicide, police said.

One of the other victims has been identified as a New Jersey high school student.

Jessica Williams, a 19-year-old student from Dunellen High School, remains in critical condition, according to a GoFundMe page dedicated to her recovery. She was visiting midtown on Senior Skip Day with a friend when Rojas accelerated and slammed into them and the crowd.

Williams' injuries include a fractured pelvis and broken leg, according to the Daily News.

“Her spleen was removed yesterday and the damage to her face was stitched up today,” her cousin Nicole Guild said on the GoFundMe page. 

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