It is estimated that around 100 children were born to fathers who died on on 9/11
Never having met your father who died before you were born must be a complicated loss. How do you grieve the death of someone you never knew? Someone who died in a heartwrenching tragedy. That is the story of 100 children born to fathers who died on the morning of September 11, 2001, in the nation's deadliest terrorist attack. "I have no tangible memories of my dad, so there's nothing concrete," said Gabi Jacobs Dick, 19, according to PEOPLE. "I can't grieve him the way my mother does. She can recall memories. For me, it's not so much a missing feeling, as a longing. I have questions and ideas. But I don't ask what-if questions. There's no answer." Gabi's father Ariel Jacobs passed away when he attended a meeting in Tower One of the World Trade Center. His partner Jenna Jacobs McPartland gave birth to their son Gabriel just six days later. "Losing my dad was life-altering, not life-changing," Gabi shared. "It altered my path from day one."
For many, the children of 9/11 are a symbol of healing and hope. "It's pretty cool if people see us as signs of hope," said 19-year-old Ronald Milam Jr. whose father, Army Major Ronald Milam Sr., died when American Airlines Flight 77 crashed into the Pentagon. "We're just being ourselves." Four teens Gabi, Ronald, Jamie Gartenberg Pila, and Alexa Smagala who lost their fathers in the attack are opening up about their lives in a new documentary, Rebuilding Hope: The Children of 9/11. Produced by Talos Films in association with PEOPLE and directed by Ellen Goosenberg Kent, viewers can catch the doc on discovery+ beginning September 7.
"I'm the last thing he left behind," said Alexa, whose dad was a firefighter who died in Tower Two. "I'm strong because of what happened to me. If I can survive that, I can overcome anything." Added Jamie, "We tell our story so people understand what happened 20 years ago. I wasn't even born, so I think my generation and the next can connect more if people like me and the other kids share our [stories]. Losing my biological dad at a young age taught me to do everything you can. Help people. Always do the right thing and be brave." Jamie's father was trapped inside the 86th floor of the North Tower when the first plane hit. These young people and their stories can teach us so much. How despite their differences whether it's political beliefs or wide-ranging interests, their united by a universal feeling of loss. But also a universal feeling of overcoming struggles with great resilience.
The documentary follows the teens as they open up about how they’ve found inspiration in the fathers they never met, and how they’ve tried to honor them in their own ways. Most importantly despite the heartwrenching tragedy the families have endured, documentary director Goosenberg Kent is happy to report that "the kids are all right!" "Their optimism is infectious, as is their sense of responsibility to help make a better future," she said. "Peace and unity aren't just words to these young people — they're the intentions they have for their generation," Goosenberg Kent said of the documentary's message. "It was a joy to discover that." Another documentary called Generation 9/11, follows seven young adults who lost their fathers in the attack and how they reflect on their common tragedy and how it shaped their upbringings.