Bahij Chancey, center, stands with a sign featuring his friend, Nicholas Cleves, during a vigil Wednesday night in Foley Square in Manhattan. Cleves was killed in a terrorist attack in Manhattan on Tuesday. (Andrew Kelly/Reuters)
NEW YORK — The lone New Yorker to die in the terrorist attack in Manhattan on Tuesday was Nicholas Cleves.
The 23-year-old software engineer lived in a West Village apartment within biking distance of the Hudson River, which is less than two blocks away. His building, the Archive, is a New York historic landmark.
“He was a really, really kind, not heartless, intelligent and curious person,” Bahij Chancey, Cleves’s friend, told ABC 7.
“He’s from the village, he grew up in the village, and, like me, he grew up biking around New York to get around,” Chancey said.
As a child in the city, Cleves attended Little Red School House and Elisabeth Irwin High School, also known as LREI, from kindergarten through 12th grade. He graduated from the progressive Manhattan school in 2012 and in recent years worked on its IT staff part-time, said Phil Kassen, the school’s director, in a Facebook post on the LREI alumni page.
“Nicholas was kind, caring, curious, interested, and a great friend,” he wrote. “He always had a kind word when you would pass him in the hall, and the biggest smile, and always offered to help, no matter the situation.”
Kassen extended his condolences to Cleves’s mother, Monica Missio — who along with Cleves’s father was involved in the school throughout Cleves’s time there. Monica led several art auctions, Kassen wrote, and Richard Cleves created the “most wondrous and scariest haunted houses,” as well as a mad scientist’s laboratory, for the school’s Halloween Fair. A friend of the family told The Post on Thursday said Richard Cleves died a few years ago.
“To the Class of 2012, we are sorry for your loss, it is profound. I cannot imagine the good fortune of having a friend like Nicholas and then losing him,” Kassen wrote. “Though you must count yourselves fortunate for having had him as a schoolmate.”
Murr LeBey, a friend of Cleves’s parents whose son grew up with Cleves, wrote in an email to The Post that Cleves was always happy and optimistic, and that he resisted any pressure to conform to “what other kids felt was the way to be.” Kids can be mean, she wrote, but Cleves never was.
She said Cleves was adored by his parents, who were born overseas — Monica in Rome, and Richard in Britain, according to their business’s website. LeBey said the couple met in New York City, and together formed their business, CX Design, a boutique lighting design company based in New York’s SoHo neighborhood.
“Though they made beautiful lighting, Nicholas was their best ‘light,’ their greatest gift,” she wrote. “He represents America in the purest sense — creating beauty and love and radiating it outward against all odds.”
After high school, Cleves enrolled in classes at Skidmore College in Saratoga Springs, N.Y., where he majored in computer science and minored in physics. As a university student, Cleves studied Italian, worked as an IT assistant and tutored students in astronomy, Philip A. Glotzbach, the college’s president, said in a statement posted Wednesday on the college’s website. Cleves’s mother also attended Skidmore and graduated in 1981, Glotzbach said.
“An incident of terrorism that takes the lives of innocent people anywhere in the world touches each of us in our fundamental humanity,” he wrote. “But the effect is more pronounced — and far more personal — when our community is directly linked to such a horrendous event.”
During his senior year of college, Cleves interned at Unified Digital Group and was hired full-time as a software engineer “without hesitation” after he graduated, Alex T. Silverstein, president of the Saratoga Springs-based company, said in a statement posted on its website. Silverstein remembers being impressed by Cleves’s first interview, during which Cleves demonstrated his knowledge in advanced computer science topics, including artificial intelligence, game theory, cryptography and the latest engineering advances at Tesla.
“Perhaps more importantly,” Silverstein wrote, Cleves “was polite, funny, and, above all, considerate in action. He possessed a rare capacity for emotional IQ in an often-stoic professional milieu.”
Attempts by The Washington Post to reach Cleves’s family were unsuccessful. Jim Burnham, who identified himself to Newsday as a friend of the family, told reporters outside of Cleves’s building that the family was grieving and not ready to talk about Cleves’s death.
“Nicholas Cleves was a fine young man starting out a successful career, struck down way earlier than he should have been,” Burnham said.
Cleves was among eight people killed when 29-year-old Sayfullo Saipov allegedly plowed a rental truck into pedestrians and cyclists on a bike path along the Hudson River. Saipov is a legal permanent resident of the United States who arrived in the country in 2010 from Uzbekistan through a diversity visa program.
Officials said Saipov plotted for a year before carrying out the attack in the name of the Islamic State.
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