(Note: The original post ran on 9-11-11 and has been updated)
Eleven-year-old Bernard Curtis Brown, II was like many boys his age. He liked playing basketball, even getting up early on Saturday mornings to practice. But unlike some boys his age, he loved to go to school. Because of his passion to learn, he was selected to attend a four-day National Geographic trip to California. Along with two other Washington, D.C. area students, he was looking forward to having an educational adventure at the Channel Islands Marine Sanctuary.
As the trip drew near, Bernard told his father, a Navy chief petty officer who worked at the Pentagon, that he was scared to fly. As dads do, he tried to reassure his son that he’d be all right. Ironically, as his father would later say, they talked about death during that conversation. He told his son not to be afraid, because everyone would die someday.
When Bernard and the other two students, Asia Cottom and Rodney Dickens, both 11, boarded American Airlines Flight 77 with their chaperone, it was the morning of September 11, 2001. They never made it to their destination. Flight 77 was the plane hijacked by terrorists that crashed into the Pentagon.
Friends and relatives of Bernard’s family called his mother, Sinita, because they were concerned about the boy’s father. To his mother’s relief, Bernard Senior was out of the office that morning. But her relief didn’t last long when she realized that the plane that crashed into the Pentagon was the one carrying her young son.
As we look at pictures and videos of that day of terror ten years ago, we mostly see the grown-ups who were lost as they went about a regular day at work. It’s easy to forget about 9-11’s littlest victims, who boarded planes with their elders to begin what should have been an exciting new adventure.
For the three oldest children, Bernard, Asia and Rodney, life was cut short just as they were beginning to dream about what they wanted to be when they grew up. Described as a happy and fun-loving boy, Bernard planned to take his basketball skills all the way to the top. Asia, who excelled in science and math, dreamed of becoming a pediatrician. After her death, Asia’s mother, Michelle, told NBC that God must have had a much bigger plan for her, a little girl who loved Him so much. She said, “Like most children believe in Santa Claus, this child believed in God. Who better to show the world Jesus than through a child?” As for Rodney, a 6th grader who always made the honor roll, he loved computer games and watching professional wrestling. His future looked bright, and classmates said he was always kind to other kids who needed help with their homework.
Also on board Flight 77 was the Falkenberg family from Maryland. Dana, age 3, and Zoe, age 8, along with their parents, ended up on the doomed flight after missing a previous connecting flight on their first leg of a vacation to Australia. Dana was a typical active toddler, and Zoe excelled in school, ballet and the swim team. An entire family, gone in one tragic morning.
Such was also the case with the young victims that were passengers on Flight 175 that struck the South Tower of the World Trade Center. Juliana McCourt, age 4, was traveling with her mother to California. In a sad twist of fate, her mother’s best friend, who was meeting them out there, was on Flight 11, which flew into the North Tower. Three-year old David Brandhorst travelled with his adopted parents, and Christine Lee Hanson, at age 2, was the youngest victim of the September 11th attacks. She was flying with her parents Peter and Sue Kim. All three families were planning to visit Disneyland.
When a child dies, there’s something just a bit more tragic about it. It’s just not supposed to be that way. Children represent the future. When they leave, all of their potential– their gifts, their hopes and dreams– leave too. Now, 17 years later, the oldest of these kids would be old enough to have been to college, start a family or a business…or find a solution to some long-standing problem in the world. What might have been.
One thing is certain: a brief life can still be a full life. After reading through memorials to these children, it seems they’ve all left their mark on the lives of those who knew them…and those who didn’t.