Today marks the 15th anniversary of 9/11, the deadliest terror attack on American soil. More than 3,000 children and young people lost a parent on September 11 2001, and ever since they’ve been known as the children of 9/11.
As you can imagine, the event has shaped the rest of their lives. Many have tried to honour the parent they lost, whether it’s by working with refugees, studying what led to the attacks or adopting their parent’s passion.
Here are some of their stories.
Thea was 10 when she overheard her father calling her mother to say goodbye from the World Trade Centre’s North Tower, where he worked as a telecommunications analyst.
Growing up, she wanted to honour her father and she realised that the best way to do this was through his passion: wrestling.
I thought: ‘What was it we shared the most?’ And it was wrestling,” she recalls. She originally used pseudonyms like Divina Fly and Rosita, not wanting anyone to think she was making a play for sympathy.
However, when her story came out Pro Wrestling Illustrated magazine named her Inspirational Wrestler of the Year in 2011.
Thea now lives in Tampa, Florida, and says she feels her father’s spirit every time she goes into the ring.
Michael Massoroli’s father and namesake was an investment executive, and when 9/11 hit he left behind Michael, his mother, and Michael’s two-month-old sister.
Michael has since turned to public service, wanting to do something to help other people, seeing as his family had received so much support and sympathy.
Now 21, Michael got his first job working at a Washington firm that helps political campaigns handle their finances properly, and in the future wants to work in government as an adviser or aide.
“I really try and at least get positive personal growth out of something that was so horrific,” he says, “rather than let it break me down.”
After losing her father on 9/11, Alex turned to books, wanting to understand what had happened. So she took four years of Arabic in college, got a degree in international relations and aspired to work in intelligence.
“Being as affected as I was by the geopolitical landscape and my dad being killed on 9/11,” she says, “I wanted to make sure it never happened again.”
Now 28, she works on a cybersecurity project for a contractor for the federal General Services Administration in Washington.
Anjunelly had her life all planned out: she was going to join the military, and then become a doctor or lawyer. However, when her mother was killed at the World Trade Centre, this all changed.
An immigrant from the Dominican Republic, Anjunelly’s mother Maxima managed an executive cafe, so a few years later Anjunelly decided she wanted to follow a similar path.
Recalling the Sunday dinners that filled the house with friends and family, “I saw how food brings people together,” says Anjunelly, 34.
Now Anjunelly is manager in the Members’ Dining Room in Congress, and one of the most popular dishes she’s made over the years is her mother’s rice and peas.
Ryan and Casey McGowan
Ryan McGowan has “IX.XI” tattooed on the back of her neck. It’s 9/11 in Roman numerals, to honour her mother Stacey, who was killed at the World Trade Centre when Ryan was five.
“Once it’s on my skin,” she says, “I have to talk about it.”
Growing up, Ryan played the role of parent, helping her younger sister Casey pick outfits for school and making dinner when their father, Tom, had to work.
She came to think of her mother as “an amazing guardian angel”.
Now 20, Ryan is studying marketing at Boston College (BC), while 19-year-old Casey is studying communications at the same college.
Often Ryan goes to see a labyrinth inscribed with her mother’s name and those of 21 fellow BC graduates killed on 9/11. “I can just sit there and reflect,” she says. “I don’t have that anywhere else.”
Sonia lost her father when she was seven, and his death fuelled her impulse to try to help where others turn away.
The Baylor University social work student spent the summer volunteering with refugee air organisations in Greece.
“Because I had faced loss at such a young age and in such a different way than many other people, I recognised hardship in other people’s life a lot more easily,” says the 22-year-old, who took a year off from college for religious study.
She says that without her faith, she “wouldn’t be as whole and as healed”.