Two days ago we marked the 15th anniversary of September 11, 2001, a day that truly changed our country. It is still a day of great mourning, and one I am personally very interested in. I was 24 that day, and naive, and the evil and heroism that combined together that day have shaped my adulthood in many ways. I have read several books about that day (this one, 102 Minutes, I have read at least 5 times, and I highly recommend it) and watched several documentaries about it, too. Because I want to know ALL the stories. I want to know the stories of every innocent person who died. Who they were, who loved them, what made them special. And I want to know the hero stories, the stories of narrow escape. I want to know them all.
But despite my interest, I did not know, or had forgotten, but I DID NOT KNOW until 2 days ago, on the 15th anniversary of this terrorist attack, that eight CHILDREN died on 9/11. Children. Little kids. I had not heard their stories. They ranged in age from 2 to 11 years old. They were ALL passengers on highjacked planes. To me, that these children were taken in an act of terrorism just compounds and intensifies the evil of that day (as in the Oklahoma City bombing when so many children died).
I don’t know why I haven’t seen their stories on documentaries or in books, but after reading this article detailing their short lives, I wanted to share their precious stories with you. I hope you will join me in remembering them.
The children of United Airlines 175
Christine Lee Hanson, just 2 years old, was the youngest of the victims on 9/11.
She was traveling with her parents, Sue Kim Hanson and Peter Hanson, to California for vacation. She was supposed to be going to Disneyland, but was killed when the terrorists slammed the flight into the south tower, World Trade Center 2, at 9:03 a.m. Peter Hanson was able to call his father before the plane hit, and tell him goodbye on behalf of his little family.
David Gamboa-Brandhurst was only 3 years old when he was killed on Flight 175.
David’s parents, Daniel Brandhorst and Ronald Gamboa, were also on the flight. They adopted Daniel at birth and according to friends he was the “Loving focus of their lives.”
Juliana Valentine McCourt was just 4 years old the day she died on United 175.
The deaths of Juliana McCourt and her mother Ruth on Flight 175 represent one of the crazy coincidences of the day in which part of a family survived the tragedy while part was lost. Ruth McCourt’s brother, Ron Clifford was a software salesman working in the North Tower when first American Airlines Flight 11 crashed into the skyscraper. He managed to get out before the tower fell, but he witnessed United 175 slam into the South Tower, not knowing at the time that his sister and niece were on board. Clifford told ABC News, “I think when I was on the floor saying the Lord’s Prayer … when the second plane hit, just in a strange way maybe Ruth guided me out of there.”
Ruth and Juliana were also going to spend time at Disneyland on their planned California vacation.
The children of American Airlines 77
The five other children killed by terrorists on September 11, 2001, were all aboard American Airlines Flight 77 when it slammed into the Pentagon. Three of them were 11-year-old 6th graders traveling with their teachers to California for a special trip awarded to them by National Geographic.
Bernard Curtis Brown II, a studious young man who LOVED school. is another victim of 9/11 whose story comes with some heartbreaking irony: his father worked at the Pentagon.
HIs mother Sinita Brown told NBC News that she received tons of phone calls that morning checking on her husband, but thankfully he was out of his office on a golf outing that morning. That relief then turned to huge grief when she learned it was her son’s flight that had slammed into her husband’s workplace.
The elder Bernard Brown, who was in the Navy, said he had a serious talk with his son before the trip because he was afraid of flying.
“To be honest,” Brown told NBC, “we talked about death. And I just told him, ‘Don’t be afraid. … Just listen to what the people tell you, and the instructions. You’ll be all right; you’ll be fine.’ He said, ‘Daddy, I’m scared,’ and I said, ‘Hey, don’t be scared; don’t be afraid to die. Because we are all going to die someday.’”
Another 6th grader on that ill-fated school trip was Asia Cottom.
Asia had a talent for science and math and hoped to be a pediatrician one day. She also loved Tweety Bird from Looney Tunes, and her mom Michelle told NBC News she was dressed in her “Tweety gear” for the flight that day. Above all, she says, her daughter had a deep faith at just 11 years old, and that comforted Michelle after Asia’s tragic death.
“God had a much higher calling for her. He took a child that just loved Him and had blind faith in Him. Like most children believe in Santa Claus, this child believed in God. Who better to show the world Jesus than through a child?”
(I just need you to pause and read that again. Amen, Mrs. Cottom. Amen,)
The third 11-year-old classmate on the trip was Rodney Dickens.
A classmate told the Washington Post that Rodney was the nice kind of kid who loved to help other kids with their homework. He also loved Pokémon, which brings his death home to me, as silly as it seems. My 12-year-old son loves Pokémon, 15 years after Rodney’s untimely death.
The last two children killed on 9/11 aboard flight Flight 77 when it slammed into the Pentagon were sisters Dana Falkenberg, 3, and Zoe Falkenberg, 8.
The Falkenberg sisters were killed with their parents, Charles Falkenberg and Leslie Whittington, both 45. They were on their way to Australia via California for two months. The Maryland family had missed an earlier connecting flight, and tragically boarded Flight 77 instead. Curly-haired Dana, born a bit later in life, was seen as a miracle child to her parents, family friends said. Zoe was beloved by family and friends, was a top student at school, and loved Girl Scouts, ballet, and swim team.
I wish I could know more about all their lives, but I am grateful to now know what little I do. I pray that you will share this story and make their names known! We’ve heard so little about the tiniest victims of 9/11, but their lives were precious in HIS sight, and their memories matter!
All photos: YouTube