On September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks claimed the lives of 2,974 people in the twin towers of the World Trade Center in New York City, at the Pentagon and in a field in Pennsylvania. "There's not a morning when I put on my shoes, there's not a morning when I get dressed, there's not a morning I don't think about it," Oprah says. "Every one of them did the same thing that I'm doing right now. Every one of them. And they never came home."

Six years later, the world remembers those who lost their lives. But the memory shines brightest in the hearts of the victims' greatest legacy—their children.

The children of 9/11 on life beyond the tragedy.
Ayleen and her mother

On the morning of September 11, 2001, 15-year-old Ayleen Arroyo said goodbye to her mother like it was any other day. "That morning, I actually didn't go to school. I wasn't feeling well. My brother was taken to the babysitter," Ayleen says. "My mom left to work, and when she left, she told me, 'Ayleen, make sure you take care of Jeremy for me.' And I was like, 'Okay, Ma, I love you.' And she gave me a hug and a kiss, and that was the last time I saw her."

Just a short time later, her mother, Ayleen Santiago, was killed in the attack on the World Trade Center. After the tragic event, life for Ayleen Arroyo and her infant brother, Jeremy, became a daily struggle. "We moved in with my grandmother," she says. "I grew up really fast after that. I went from having minimal responsibilities to suddenly being a mother to a year-and-a-half-year-old child."

As the years have passed, Ayleen says one of her biggest regrets is that her mother isn't around to share in her life. "I just imagined her being there with me at my wedding, at my high school graduation, at my college graduation, at my brother's graduations," she says.

Brielle and Kirsten

Kirsten and Brielle Saracini lost their father, Capt. Victor J. Saracini, in the attacks. He was the pilot of United Flight 175, the plane that was hijacked and flown into the south tower of the World Trade Center. "I always imagined going throughout my whole life having my dad with me by my side, guiding me, and after 9/11 I just had to grow up real fast, and I had to make it on my own," Brielle says.

"We kind of stayed static for a while," Kirsten says. "And now we're finally just making an effort to move on. I mean, it's just pretty much started now that we've realized, 'Wow, this is actually how life's going to be.'"

After Matthew Bocchi's father was killed, he says he felt he had to step in as a father figure to his siblings. "My little brothers didn't really get to know my dad, and I felt that they really needed someone to look up to, and I sort of just took that role right away," he says. "I try my best to really look out for them and be a part of their lives, just always care for them."

Shalisha Scudder, who lost her father, has turned her mind toward forgiveness. "I'm working on it," she says. "I know that it's not going to come easy, because they took my everything, my all. So in time, it's going to happen."
Maggie and Kaitlyn

Kaitlyn Fisher was only 5 years old when she and her sister Maggie lost their father, and she says every year that passes makes it more difficult to cope. "I know it sounds like I don't know that much about it because I was so young," Kaitlyn says. "[But] it gets so much harder over the years, because you understand it more."

For most, the anniversary of September 11 is a single day where the country remembers a tragic event, but Kirsten says that thinking can make it more difficult for her. "We live through it all year, and it's not just like September 11th was this one day. It's our lives. It's what has kind of shaped the past six years," she says. "It's different for us."

Matt, who was 9 years old at the time, says he is trying to be like his father. "I believe I've become a better person, and I try to look up to my dad as he was [in] the short time that I knew him."

Through all the pain and grief of trying to move on, the one thing that stays the same is their desire to keep the memories of their loved ones alive. Ayleen says her mother was "her everything"—and she wants to pass down that legacy to her little brother. "I remember her every day," she says. "And what's most important to me is that my brother loves her. So I do things like when I was young. We'd go to the circus every year at Madison Square Garden. We'd go to Radio City Music Hall for the Christmas Spectacular. We'd go see Disney on Ice, and I do the same things with him."

Sean and Ryan McGuire keep their father's memory alive by doing different activities together. "We go to Rolling Stones concerts, because that was my dad's favorite band," Sean says. "We have a day at the racetrack for my dad, and on 9/11 we have a mass for him, and we play with a ball and throw a football around all day."

Even as they keep their loved ones close to their hearts, the children and their families have started to move on with their lives. Kaitlyn and Maggie's mother recently remarried, as did Matt's mother. "She's happy now, and I'm happy for her," Matt says.
The Coombs family

Christie Coombs first appeared on The Oprah Winfrey Show a few months after she lost her husband. "Jeff was a funny guy. He had a goofy laugh," she says. "First and foremost, though, he was a great dad."

Jeffrey lost his life aboard American Airlines Flight 11, which crashed into the north tower of the World Trade Center. "At 12:55, we got a call from American Airlines, confirming he'd been on the flight. And then the next thing I had to do was tell my kids Daddy wasn't coming home," Christie says.

After learning of their father's death, Julia, who was 7 years old at the time, made a "daddy hug pillow" using one of his sweatshirts. Her 13-year-old brother, Matthew, coped by saying he wanted to be just like their father.

"I'm really proud of [my dad] because he took care of me and brought me up to be a good person, like him," says Julia and Matthew's sister, Meaghan.
The Coombs family in 2007

Though years have passed, the Coombs children continue to remember the time they had with their father. "I definitely will never forget what he looks like because I have so many pictures around me," Meaghan says. "But the thing that I always forget is his voice, his laugh. I just need to hear it. So I try to break out the home videos every once in a while."

"He'll always have some influence on me for the 13 years that I did know him," says Matthew, now 19. "I still want to be a dad like him one day."

Julia, now 13 years old, says she still has her "daddy hug pillow." "It makes me feel good to have it. I feel like I'm just getting a great big hug from him all over again," she says.

Christie says that though she and her children have tried to move forward, she still misses her husband every day. "He would've wanted his kids to be happy, and he would have wanted me to be happy, and so we do what we can to live a new, normal kind of life, as a new, different kind of family," she says.
Amy with children at Camp Better Days

Many children who lost a parent on September 11 spend a few days every summer at Camp Better Days, a camp near Albany, New York, that was started with them in mind.

Amy Callahan, director of Camp Better Days, opened this retreat after losing her fiancé, Scott, on September 11. "A few weeks before [the attacks], [Scott] and my brother and I had a conversation about starting a camp for kids in need," she says. "I had no idea at the time that it would have been these kids."

To help ease her grief, Amy says she threw all her energy into the camp. "It gave me a purpose," she says.

Over the years, many victims' children have benefited from Camp Better Days's programs. Amy says she's watched them all grow up and even helped some become counselors to younger campers. "They have really become amazing people [that] I'm honored to know," she says. "They're very giving. ... To watch them be so caring and giving and so open about what they've gone through is an amazing experience."

Children who have spent summer days together at Camp Better Days say they feel like a family now. "There's this understanding," Brielle says. "There's a bond between us."
Kathy's sister, Patty, died at the Pentagon.

Hundreds of people were killed in New York City on September 11, but a great number of lives were lost in two other locations as well. Passengers and crew members on United Flight 93 died in the crash near Shanksville, Pennsylvania, and more lives were lost after American Airlines Flight 77 crashed into the Pentagon.

Kathy Dillaber and her sister, Patty Mickley, both worked at the Pentagon at the time of the attack. "I saw her that morning, and she had a beautiful red dress on," Kathy says. "The plane came in at [an] angle and ... her office is where it ended. So I came back here and was looking for a red dress or someone who might have seen a girl in a red dress." But Patty did not survive.

"I think there are parts of the country that have forgotten, particularly here at the Pentagon, because it was restored within the year," Kathy says.
Jalin remembers her father, James.

More than 180 people lost their lives in the Pentagon attack. One of them was James Debeuneure, a fifth-grade teacher traveling with three students on Flight 77. His daughter, Jalin, remembers the last moments she shared with her father. "That morning was pretty special," she says. "Normally, I don't get out of my bed and physically give him a hug and send him off to wherever he's going, but, for some reason, I got out of my bed and gave him a hug. We both said 'I love you'...and that's the last time that I spoke to him."

Donn Marshall's wife, Shelley, was sitting at her desk when the plane hit. "Things happened here that nobody knows about," he says. "At one point, there was a big gash in the wall where the plane went in and the firefighters were going in and out...I kept waiting for a chance to get in there."

Abe Scott still finds it hard to look at the building where his wife, Janice, once worked. "She is here with me," he says. "This is the place where she worked. This is the place where she was murdered, and this is the place where I'm going to remember her, as she was, when she was alive."
A memorial park near the Pentagon honors victims.

In the shadow of the Pentagon, construction is underway on a two-acre plot of land, which is being transformed into a victims' memorial. Although there's still a lot of work to do, you can already get a sense of how the memorial will look when it's complete.

The plan calls for 184 benches—one for every person who perished—placed in lines, organized by the victims' ages. "Every single detail here tells a part of the story," says WLJA reporter Leon Harris.

Jim, one of the people helping to build the park, says this project is what keeps him going. He lost his brother, David Laychak. "We want a place where we can all go and remember our loved ones and how we felt that day when our country was attacked," he says.

Rosemary says being at the construction site makes her feel closer to her husband of 15 years, Eddie Dillard. Eddie was a passenger on Flight 77. "Every time I come here, when I come near where his bench is going to be, there is a breeze," she says. "It's the most amazing thing."
The Burnett family

On September 11, 2001, 40 people died when Flight 93 crashed in a Pennsylvania field. Thanks to the heroic actions of a few passengers, an even greater tragedy was prevented. According to U.S. officials, the hijacked plane was en route to the White House.

In 2001, Maria Shriver interviewed Deena Burnett, the wife of Tom Burnett Jr., one of the brave passengers who fought back against the terrorists. To this day, Maria says it was one of her most moving interviews.

Tom flew cross-country so often for business that the woman he proposed to, Deena, was a flight attendant. When their daughters—Anna Clare and twins Halley and Madison—were born, Deena stopped flying.

When the horrific events of September 11 began to unfold, Deena says she wasn't sure if her husband was in danger, but she knew he was planning fly home from New York that morning. Then, the phone rang. "It was Tom," she told Maria. "He said, 'I'm on the airplane, United Flight 93, and it's been hijacked.'"

Deena immediately called 911. While she was talking to the FBI, Tom called again with an update. "He said they were in the cockpit, and he hung up again," she said. "I remember hugging the telephone, waiting for it to ring."

Then, Tom called again. "He said, 'We can't wait for the authorities. We have to do something,'" Deena said.

Fifteen seconds later, Deena spoke to her husband for the very last time. "He said, 'Okay, there's a group of us, and we're going to do something.' I said, 'No. Please sit down and be still and be quiet. Don't draw attention to yourself,'" she told Maria. "And he said, 'No. If they're going to drive this plane into the ground, we've got to do something.'"

After that, Tom hung up the phone...and never called again. Deena says she held onto the telephone for three hours, until the battery ran down.
Deena, Halley, Madison and Anna Clare Burnett

Many tears have been shed over the years, but Deena says she and her daughters are now living happy lives.

"Thanks to faith in God, a wonderful family who has loved us and helped us, and the support of a grateful nation for what Tom did, we are doing really well," she says. "Six years later, we remember, we still love him, talk about him, think about him, and try to honor him every day in our actions in raising these children."

Halley, now 11 years old, says her mom always encouraged her to share her feelings. "My mom would always come to me in my bedroom, and she would say, 'Do you need to talk about anything?' And most of the time, I would say yes," Halley says. "She said that it was always okay to cry."

Deena says she thinks about Tom every day and tries to honor him by being a good parent. "I think that his imprint is on these three children," she says. "They try every day to be heroes on their own."
New York City firefighter Stephen Siller

Tales of true heroism have come to light in the years since September 11, 2001. New York City firefighter Stephen Siller is one man who didn't run from danger...he ran toward it.

At 8:30 a.m. that morning, Stephen headed home after working the night shift at his Brooklyn firehouse. He had planned to spend the day golfing with his brothers, but when he heard about the first plane hitting the World Trade Center, he turned his truck around.

On his way back to New York City, Stephen got stuck at the Brooklyn-Battery Tunnel, which was already sealed off to traffic, according to his family. Instead of turning back, he strapped 75 pounds of gear onto his back, abandoned his truck and ran through the tunnel...straight for the burning buildings.

"What must have been going through his mind running through that tunnel with gear on his back...he has a wife and five children. You have to be torn running through," says Frank, Stephen's brother. "He knew that he was a firefighter. His job is to save people."

Stephen ran through the tunnel and straight for the World Trade Center, where he lost his life when the towers collapsed. More than 340 firefighters and paramedics also lost their lives that day.
Stephen Siller's family hosts an annual charity run.

To honor Stephen, his loved ones host an annual charity event, the Tunnel to Towers Run. This 3.1 mile run retraces Stephen's footsteps on that fateful day. Some participants even wear firefighter gear while they run...just like Stephen did.

As the runners make their way through the Brooklyn-Battery Tunnel, they pass photos of fallen firefighters who, along with Stephen, courageously ran into the towers hoping to save lives.

Stephen's family has also raised funds for the Stephen Siller's "Let Us Do Good" Children's Foundation. The donations help provide housing for orphans, money for burn centers around America and scholarships for children who have lost a parent in the Iraqi war.

Today, Oprah invited 92 of his family and friends to the show, including his wife, Sarah, and their five children. She also invited hundreds of New York City firemen, policemen, Port Authority workers and rescue workers to be a part of the show.

"We thank you," Oprah says.
Oprah stands with the children of September 11.

"Six years ago today, remember how devastated we all were, but how, in spite of that devastation, how connected we somehow felt?" Oprah asks. "In our darkest moment, so many of us were able to reach out to each other and create a new kind of light. A light of respect, a light of compassion and caring for one another, a light of trying to understand what it's like to stand in somebody else's shoes. ... What I know is we all want that feeling back. We want to bring back the light. Let's not wait for the next disaster to extend ourselves in peace to one another again."

Watch Oprah's tribute to some of the moms and dads who died on September 11.

"I carry the sacredness of [the victims'] sacrifice with me," Oprah says. "I think we owe them all our own personal resurrections. We owe them our best. We owe them our most just, our most fair. We owe them what the deserve—a really good life."
FROM: Six Years Later—The Children of September 11
Published on January 01, 2006


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