Too young to comprehend evil, the Pokemon fan, the Tweety Bird lover, and the toddler who believed Mickey Mouse is real were assassinated by terrorists on Sept. 11. Three months later, the story of the eight child victims remains largely untold. Ranging in age from 2 to 11, they climbed aboard two thundering jetliners high on life, as only innocent children can be. Their last moments were filled with ghastly horror.
A survivor of the World Trade Center attacks who descibed to WorldNetDaily the terror he witnessed spoke of seeing "aircraft seat parts, shoes and even a little doll" raining down from the sky. The image of the doll is a lasting reminder of the hijackers' littlest victims largely overlooked.
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A search of archives of published reports more often brings up articles about the Afghan war's "innocent victims" than articles about the children "among the first to give their lives in this war on terrorism," as Gen. Richard Myers, chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff characterizes.
Every one of the eight child victims of the Sept. 11 terror attacks was, as President Bush described it earlier this month, "the most important person on Earth to somebody." The latest Associated Press Sept. 11 victims' list names the following:
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United Airlines Flight 175
Christine Lee Hanson, 2, was carted aboard United Airlines Flight 175 in Boston by her parents, Peter, 32, and Sue Kim Hanson, 35. The flight was bound for Los Angeles. Christine was headed for her first visit to Disneyland. According to the Korea Herald, Sue Kim Hanson, a Korean-American was due to earn her doctorate in November. Peter Hanson worked for a Massachusetts-based Internet firm. Little Christine attended Knowledge Beginnings preschool in Chelmsford, Mass. According to the Korea Herald, the young couple moved to rural Groton, Mass., in search of a quiet upbringing for their daughter.
Like many passengers aboard the doomed airliner, Peter Hanson placed a frantic cellphone call to his father, Lee Hanson, in Connecticut. According to the Korea Herald, he told him, "Dad, I think they're going to crash the plane." At 9:03 a.m. his words came true.
According to the Shirley Oracle, Lee Hanson, a World War II veteran, says Sept. 11 marks the first time he'd "come face-to-face with evil." Peter Hanson's sister, Kathy Hanson Barrere, added through tears, "When I saw the picture of the plane turning and heading into the World Trade Center I imagined seeing them and there was nothing I could do to protect them."
David Brandhorst with father Ronald
Gamboa. Courtesy AP.
Also aboard United Flight 175, was 3-year-old David Brandhorst and his adopted fathers, Daniel Brandhorst, 42, and Ronald Gamboa, 33. New York Blade reports Daniel was adopted by the homosexual couple at the time of his birth and was the "loving focus of their lives," according to a close friend of the couple. Andrew Isen also told New York Blade, "[David] knew his parents as 'Daddy' and 'Poppy.'"
The loss of 4-year-old Juliana Valentine McCourt represents a cruel twist of fate, according to ABC News. Ron Clifford, a software salesman, was in the North Tower when the first American Airlines Flight 11 crashed into the skyscraper. He managed to stumble out of the haze of aviation fuel and witnessed the second airliner crashing into the South Tower, only to learn his sister and niece were on board. The St. Petersburg Times reports Ruth McCourt, 45, and daughter Juliana, 4, were headed for vacation in Southern California. They planned to divide their week between two venues: the Deepak Chopra Center for Well Being and Disneyland.
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."
Friends say Ruth, a former model who emigrated to the U.S. from Ireland in 1973, was a spiritual woman to whom they often turned for advice.
Poring over a photograph of Juliana, Ruth's husband, David McCourt, told ABC News, "I will never be able to look at this child again. This child will never be in my life. She was so beautiful. It's a way of almost denying it, but it's the only way I can cope at this point."
McCourt intends to launch a fund dedicated to the memory of his wife and daughter, the Juliana Valentine McCourt Children's Education Fund. Its purpose is to teach children to live without hate.
"Juliana was taught love," McCourt told People magazine, "we want to teach others how to resolve conflict peacefully."
American Airlines Flight 77
A cruel irony also surrounds the loss of 11-year-old Bernard Curtis Brown II of Washington, D.C. Bernard was one of three exceptional middle-school students headed for an educational adventure to the Channel Islands Marine Sanctuary off the California coast, accompanied by their teachers. Bernard, praised for his spelling, drawing and zest for living, was one of 64 people aboard American Airlines Flight 77 that slammed into the Pentagon – the workplace of Bernard's father.
"Everybody was calling me at my job because they knew my husband worked at the Pentagon," Sinita Brown told NBC News. A golf outing had Bernard Sr. out of the office that day. But Sinita Brown's relief quickly turned to grief when she learned it was her son's flight that hit the Pentagon. The elder Bernard, a Navy chief petty officer, told NBC News he had a serious heart-to-heart with his "happy, loving child" who was apprehensive about 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.'"
Unlike many 11-year-olds, Bernard "lived to go to school," according to his mother. The New York Times reports the ambitious basketball player had just purchased a pair of Air Jordan sneakers. He was wearing the treasured shoes on Sept. 11.
Rodney Dickens and Asia Cottom were Bernard's 11-year-old companions on this dream trip. This was Rodney's first trip on an airplane. According to the Washington Post, Angelo Bynum, a classmate from Ketcham Elementary remembers Rodney "as a kind, nice person who loved Pokemon" and "helped other people with their homework if they didn't understand it."
Asia Cottom. Courtesy Dateline/NBC
Clifton Cottom tells NBC News his daughter, Asia, was a real charmer who was trying hard to grow up. She had a talent for science and math and dreamed of becoming a pediatrician. She also enjoyed dancing and jumping rope double-Dutch style. Asia's mother, Michelle, told NBC she was dressed in her "Tweety gear."
Michelle Cottom has turned to her faith for solace: "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?"
Curly-haired Dana Falkenberg died with her mother, father and 8-year-old sister, Zoe. The robust 3-year-old was seen as a miracle by her parents, reports The Mirror. Zoe was a top student, active in Girl Scouts, ballet and swim team. She was greatly loved by her friends, teammates and teachers.
The girls' father, Charles Falkenberg, 45, was a former NASA engineer. Their mother, Leslie Whittington, 45, was a university economics professor due to take up a post in an Australian college.
The University Park, Md. family was on the first leg of a journey to vacation in Canberra, Australia. They had missed a connecting flight and boarded the ill-fated American Airlines flight 77 in D.C.
Miracle daycare workers
A silver lining to this dark cloud are the lives spared by the efforts of courageous miracle workers. The teachers at the Children's Discovery Center at 5 World Trade Center – a building less than 100 yards from the main towers – managed to scoop up all the children and hustled them to safety, according to ABC News.
"All I see is just debris and just the earth, and it felt like we were about to be swallowed," Karen Caycedo told ABC. Caycedo wasted no time in reacting to the surreal scene outside her window.
"We had infants; we had 4-month-olds, we had 3-year-olds. ... We just ran; we went to the left; we went to the right." ABC reports the teachers traveled close to three miles with 10 children in tow. Each teacher carried two babies. Their efforts made the difference; Initial reports that the daycare children were among the WTC victims proved erroneous.
New York City's official count of people missing or killed in the World Trade Center attacks fell below 3,000 this week for the first time. Including the lives lost at the Pentagon and aboard the two hijacked planes that crashed in Washington, D.C., and Pennsylvania, the Sept. 11 death toll now stands at 3,225. The lower tally, however, makes the loss no less profound, particularly the loss of lives barely begun.
The burden of knowing the brilliance of tiny stars snuffed too soon is borne by the teachers and parents of the eight children killed by the Sept. 11 terrorists. Bernard Brown Sr. put the loss into perspective at a Pentagon memorial service: "It might be me next, or one of you. Get your life in order because you have a choice."