Guillermo Class just couldn’t wait any more. The reports he was getting from his two teenage sons living in Puerto Rico weren’t good. Food and water were getting to them and their mother. But not enough.
“I just spoke to my son the other day. He said they bought food, they bought water, and whoever got got, and whoever didn’t, didn’t get, you know?" he said. "For me to know that I’m in Hartford, Connecticut -- I could wash three cars with all the water we got. I got a refrigerator full of food. And knowing that my kids are going through what…practically going to be hungry. I can’t.”
So he did what he had to do to raise the cash to fly himself down and fly his boys with him back to Hartford where they were born.
“I had to sell my car to buy the plane tickets,” he said. “I had to sell my vehicle [so] I could buy the plane tickets and have money in my pocket so I could get them out of Puerto Rico. And that doesn’t bother me. Because that’s what you gotta do as a father.”
Class says he got $1,700 for his 2003 Jeep Liberty. It was in decent shape, and he could have gotten more, but he was desperate.
That’s how he came to be among those on a direct flight from Bradley International Airport to San Juan Monday. Also on the plane were seven members of a northwest Massachusetts emergency response crew on a two-week mission to help with planning and logistics in Puerto Rico. Wearing matching t-shirts, the crew caught Class’s eye back at the airport.
“I even posted on Facebook, I said, look at these first responders going on the same flight with me to Puerto Rico,” Class said. “I was saying, God is good. It’s not all that bad.”
And it’s a good thing all of them were there. Because, just after the plane took off, a woman started coughing violently and couldn’t stop. Eventually, the Massachusetts crew was able to help stabilize her and, throughout, Class – who was sitting in front of her – calmed her and shared his own stash of brand-new asthma inhalers.
“I wasn’t gonna give her the used one, you know? So, I figured, she needs it? She needs it. You know? I don't care. I can always get another one. But got like three more.”
Class says he grew up in the Bronx but has lived for the past 15 years in Hartford. He was dressed in work boots so he could be useful when he’s on the island. But his main goal was to get his boys.
Just before he boarded the plane, he spoke with one of his sons.
“He was like, I can’t wait to see you. I just can’t wait. I told them, don’t worry. Relax. I told you I’m going for you.”
Once the plane landed, we had to run to keep up with Guillermo Class as he went to meet his sons.
“There he goes! Right there! Those are my boys right there!” he exclaimed.
The three of them -- William, Joemar, and Guillermo -- hugged. A lot. Then they stopped. Then they hugged some more as they waited for bags.
The boys said they had been okay. There had been some food and some water. But they say they know that, for a time, good opportunities will be hard to come by in Puerto Rico.
Joemar said he wants to go home to finish school. For his future.
“Por me futuro,” he said. “And play baseball.”
“I feel good, now that I see them,” said Guillermo. “I hadn’t seen them in...about five years. They’re going back home with me, that’s for sure.”
Update, October 31, 2017:
After WNPR first told the story of Guillermo Class, offers to help him started to come in. And the week he got back, Class and his sons received a gift -- $2,000 from a Manchester physician group led by Dr. Dennis O’Neil. He and his partners felt powerless in the face of the storm.
“We felt very frustrated, but here’s a tangible thing we can do. We can help this guy get his car back -- if that’s what he wants to do, if he can. But, at least we can get him the money to get him back on the road,” O’Neill said. “During times like these, we’re all brothers, and this is what I would have done for my brother.”
“Thank you so much,” Class said. “I appreciate it. From the bottom of my heart. And I know they do, too.”
Class was able to use some of the money to help his teenage sons transition to their new life in Connecticut.
This story is part of “The Island Next Door,” WNPR’s reporting project about Puerto Rico and Connecticut after Hurricane Maria.