Watch Kids Who Lost Parents on 9/11 Prove to Terrorists That Hate Will Never Win

cnn 9/11 kids

As the 15th anniversary of 9/11 approaches, we remember the thousands of people who lost their lives in the attacks -- many of whom were moms and dads. A total of 3,051 children under the age of 18 lost their parents when the World Trade Center towers came crashing down, and 10 of those kids -- who are now between the ages of 14 to 29 -- met with CNN's Brooke Burke to talk about their experiences growing up, and to send a message to terrorists: "We're still here."

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Those are the words of Patrick Hannaford, who was just 2 years old when he lost his father, Kevin Hannaford, a 32-year-old employee of Cantor Fitzgerald. 

"We've rebuilt, and we're stronger now than we were then. It's just a good feeling to know they failed," he told CNN.

More from CafeMom: 9/11 & What We'll 'Never Forget' About That Fateful Day

All of the then-children lost fathers, and five of them have no memory of their dads (two were born after the attacks). But what they have in common is the comfort they find coming together and sharing their unique stories. Some have even developed close relationships with each other, bonding over their shared loss and looking out for each other like family.

Like Kevin Parks and Rodney Wotton, for example: After getting to know each other at a meeting of Tuesday's Children, an organization dedicated to supporting kids who lost parents on 9/11, 29-year-old Kevin began mentoring 14-year-old Rodney (who is the same age now as Parks was when his father died).

"He's just been the father figure in my life since I never did meet my dad," Wotton said of Parks.

"It means a lot hearing that. I've always said I get more out of the relationship than he does," Parks responded.

The wisdom these kids have is truly, truly beyond their years. And to see their faces, to hear their voices knowing how proud their fathers would be of them today is so moving:

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So inspiring, and so beautiful -- particularly when one takes into account the sheer horror and sorrow these children endured at such a young age. Now 21, Austin Vukosa told an especially heartbreaking memory of how the aftermath of his father's death affected him: At just 6 years old, he told his mother that he was planning to slit his wrists so he could join his dad in heaven.

"I was telling my mom I wanted to be in the same place my dad was -- just to be with him," he said. "Obviously, looking back, it sounds kind of frightening."

Frightening and deeply, deeply sad. But now, years later, Vukosa has found a way to be close to his dad in a much more positive way: The recent Notre Dame grad just started work at Cantor Fitzgerald, where his father was employed as an information technology specialist.

"Just to follow his footsteps at the same company has been a big sense of accomplishment for me," he said.

What a powerful testament to the resilience of the human spirit. As the mother of a child who was born shortly before 9/11 (we lived in NYC at the time, just about 20 blocks from the towers), I'm nothing short of astounded at how much these kids have overcome, and how mature and grounded they all seem to be. I remember so well looking down at my infant daughter and wondering about all the little ones like her who lost their parents that day, who would never remember what it felt like to be in their father's arms or hear him come through the door at the end of the day.

More from CafeMom: How to Talk to Your Kids About 9/11 & Other Traumatic Events

Their early years might have been steeped in tragedy, but these kids haven't allowed tragedy to become the defining theme of their existence; in fact, they've gone above and beyond to live their best lives in honor of their parents. Back when those towers came down, we all wondered if our world would ever be the same again. It's not, of course, but these kids have found a way to make it their own, and a way to thrive. 

And that's exactly what terrorists everywhere need to know: The world is not, and will never be, theirs. It belongs to children like these.

 

Image via CNN/YouTube

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