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Last Updated: Wednesday, 3 September, 2003, 11:59 GMT 12:59 UK
Growing up in 9/11's shadow
BBC News Online's Rachel Clarke
By Rachel Clarke
BBC News Online in New York

Cherilyn Curia is a bubbly, talkative girl, confident that she is Daddy's Special Girl. But she has not seen her father since one day in September 2001 when he went to work in the World Trade Center and never came home.

Cherilyn Curia at Shea Stadium
Cherilyn Curia says the Mets picnic was one of her good days
She is one of thousands of children who lost a parent when four planes were hijacked and deliberately crashed in New York, Washington and Pennsylvania.

The 10-year-old knows a girl in her school who also lost her father - to cancer - at such a horribly young age.

But Cherilyn and the other orphans of 11 September have to live their lives on a more public stage where complete strangers will recall the anniversary and perhaps even feel they shared in the loss, whether they knew a victim or not.

Cherilyn was old enough to have stored up plenty of memories of her father, Larry, who worked as a broker for Cantor Fitzgerald on the 104th floor of the North Tower.

"He was really cool," she told BBC News Online. "He loved me and I loved him. We had this bond because I was the first child. He took me to the city - just to be there - and on 'Take your daughter to work day' we had a lot of fun."

If my dad was here I probably wouldn't be going to the great camp that I'm going to... but I probably would choose him after all this - he's my father
Cherilyn Curia
She worries more for her little brother Mitchell, who was just four when Larry died. But she promises to help in a big-sisterly kind of way and says there are pictures of their father all over their home in Garden City, Long Island.

Though the good memories of a father doing what good dads do are a benefit of her age, Cherilyn was also old enough to understand how much life and everything else around her had changed.

She knew about the attacks when she got home from school on the Tuesday but it was when her mother woke her early the day after to say that daddy had been involved and that people at school would be talking about it that it really began to sink in.

She went to school that day and found teacher, classmates and friends all reacting differently to her in a way that has not totally changed in the two years since.

Cherilyn has good friends but said: "There are other kids who are just nice to me but two years ago they weren't. These ones are nice to me because I don't have a father."

Tuesday's Children

It is a similar story for many children across the tri-state area around New York City: they may be the only kid on the football field without their dad there cheering, friends may avoid them rather than trying to think of what to say as Mothers' Day approaches, or they may simply be having a good day when someone else thinks they should be sad.

A man carries his child into Shea Stadium
Tuesday's Children events bring families together
Many of them are now being brought together by a group called Tuesday's Children, founded as a family support network by Chris Burke, who lost his brother Tom - a father of four boys - in the destruction of the World Trade Center.

For Cherilyn, Tuesday's Children means special days out and a few hours each week with a mentor in whom she says she can confide anything.

At a Tuesday's Children Labor Day picnic at the Shea Stadium home of the New York Mets baseball team, Bryan Ruiz-Diaz is decked out in the team colours and ready to get an autographed ball.

The boy from Valley Stream, Long Island, is far more reserved and does not volunteer information about his father Obdulio, an architect who was at a meeting on the top-floor Windows on the World restaurant when the first plane hit.

Even at just six years old in 2001 he noticed the way others reacted to his loss, even those he thought were friends. "Sometimes they passed me in the hall without saying hello," he said.

Mentors

But the mentoring programme run by Tuesday's Children has teamed him with John Perkett who spends time with him every Monday.

Mentors John and Donna Perkett
Mentors John and Donna Perkett promise to be there in the future
Bryan's two older sisters, Vanessa and Pamela, also have Monday evenings out and the three mentors have become like an uncle and two aunts according to the children's mother Rosa, filling in for the adult friends and relatives who stopped coming by after Obdulio's death.

Bryan is not sure how to categorise John, but he says he will stay friends with him for ever and enjoys their time together. "Going down the water slide is really cool," he said.

John, who volunteered for the programme through his work for the investment bank Bear Stearns, will also be there if and when Bryan wants to open up.

Cherilyn recognises that her mentor is one of the good things to come out of bad.

But she puts into words what surely the other children feel too.

"If my dad was here I probably wouldn't be going to the great camp that I'm going to and there are things I wouldn't have had. But I probably would choose him after all this. He's my father."


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