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September 12, 2018

These kids are a farewell gift from a father who died in 9/11 attack

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When the horrific attacks on 9/11 occurred, a number of men killed had been expectant fathers, eagerly awaiting the arrival of new babies into their families. 

Tragically, they would never meet their little ones, and their children would never meet them. But the children of 9/11 are all about to turn 17 years old now, and know everything about their fathers that their loving families could tell them. 

In the months following the terror attacks, about 100 babies were born to new widows. Described as "the gift their fathers left behind," they were first introduced just months after they were born in December 2001. 

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With the 17th anniversary of the 2001 attacks just passed, the children are gearing up for their birthdays in the wake of honoring their fathers' deaths. 

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“These children are what comes after 9/11,” says Jenna Jacobs, whose son Gabriel was born six days after the death of his father Ariel. “They are the joy, the salve, the ointment. They’re the love.”

Gabriel's father, Ariel, had been attending a breakfast conference that morning at the World Trade Centers when the planes hit. Every year on the anniversary of the attack, Gabriel and Jenna release balloons in honor of Ariel. 

“Some people believe in God or the greater power,” says Gabriel. “I believe that the ones close to you that we’ve lost are there to help you, watching every step you take.”

Port Authority Police Officer Donald McIntyre's daughter Lauren McIntyre was born less than three months after the attacks. Officer McIntyre died running into the towers to save others. 

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Lauren and her older siblings, Caitlyn, 22, and Donald Jr., 20, have become like surrogate children to their father's surviving fellow officers after his death.

“I could only imagine how much courage someone could have to go into a situation like that,” says Lauren. “It’s beyond amazing.”

She still wears his badge number on a necklace, and has a locket with his photo inside. 

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Ronald Milam had been in the pentagon when it was attacked. His wife, Jacqueline, had been five months pregnant with their son at the time. She was also in the building at the time, but far enough away to survive. 

She named their son Ronald Jr. when he was born. Ronald Jr. plays basketball for his high school team, and wears the number 33 on his jersey, in honor of his father's age at the time of his death.

Jamie Pila was born six months after her father James died in the attack. Her mother Jill has described Jamie as a "special gift" James left behind for the family. 

“My mom says I’m brave like [my dad],” says Jamie, 16. “When I do well on something or have a big moment, I wish he was here with me.”

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Seven weeks after her father Robert Higley died, Robyn Higley was born. The tragic loss before she even greeted the world has given her very different views on life than other teens her age. 

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“I’ve always been aware of the world,” she says. “The world should be a place where it’s okay to be who you are, and to love whom you love and believe what you believe. Underneath, what we’re made up of is the same.”

Allison Lee's father Dan was actually on Flight 11 when the plane crashed into the North Tower, traveling home because his wife was due to give birth in the following days. She was born just two days after his death, on September 13. 

“There’s always an empty spot,” says Allison. “But on September 11, we celebrate my dad’s life.”

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