N.J. transit officers reunite homeless man with daughters after 24 years

NEWARK, N.J. (News 12/CNN) - A father who was down on his luck returned home to New Jersey, and thanks to a chance encounter with a transit police officer, his family reunited after more than two decades.

Jose Lopez, second from right, is now working to find permanent housing through a program with the Mental Health Association of Essex and Morris County. (Source: NJ Transit Police/Facebook)

When Jose Lopez moved to Florida years ago, he lost everything: his home, his job and communication with his loved ones. Looking for his daughters, Lopez returned to his home state of New Jersey.

Still homeless, Lopez encountered New Jersey Transit Police Officer Josua Robles at a train station, which turned out to be a blessing in disguise.

"When I asked him where he was headed, he said, ‘Long Branch.’ I asked what was out there, and he said it was his family. So, I said if you have their information, I can contact them for you, and he said he didn’t have their information,” Robles said.

Robles reached out to Crisis Outreach Officer Sean Pfeifer, who got to work tracking down Lopez’s family. He called dozens of phone numbers throughout the state, leaving voicemail messages and even signing up for a White Pages Premium account to access more numbers.

"As a father and as a son myself, I wanted to make sure I did everything I possibly could to find Mr. Lopez’s family,” Pfeifer said.

In the end, Pfeifer was able to contact one of Lopez’s daughters. Transit police say she was amazed to hear her father had been located, and she was excited to see him.

“So, I called my sister, and I was like ‘Something weird is happening. I got a call from the New Jersey Transit Police, talking about Dad.' She said, ‘Wait a minute, I got the same number,’” said Angela Viviani, Lopez’s daughter.

Pfeifer arranged for a meeting and a makeover, and Lopez received new clothes, a haircut and a shave.

The family reunion was emotional for everyone. Lopez’s two daughters, Kristie Viviani and Angela Viviani, were just 17 and 10, respectively, the last time they saw their father.

"As soon as Officer Pfeiffer walked him in, it was just immediate. I saw his face. I remember the eyes,” Kristie Viviani said.

Together again, Lopez embraced his daughters and met his grandchildren for the first time.

"I’m thinking I’m in heaven. I have my two best girls. I got good friends,” Lopez said.

Lopez is now working to find permanent housing through a program with the Mental Health Association of Essex and Morris County.

Copyright 2019 News 12 New Jersey, Sean Pfeifer via CNN. All rights reserved.

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