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Coping with loss, children find comfort in each other

Zoe Falkenberg collected snow globes and Beanie Babies and loved to ride on her scooter.
Zoe Falkenberg collected snow globes and Beanie Babies and loved to ride on her scooter.  

(CNN) The night before 8-year-old Zoe Falkenberg climbed aboard American Airlines Flight 77, she phoned her friends Katie and Camila with big news.

She wanted her girlfriends to know she'd gotten to ride around town in a limousine.

Zoe died on Flight 77, along with her parents, Charles Falkenberg and Leslie Whittington, and her 3-year-old sister, Dana, when the plane carrying them careened into the Pentagon on September 11.

CNN's Kathy Slobogin visits a Maryland town trying to come to terms with the loss of a beloved family (September 25)

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The family was on their way to Australia for a two-month stay.

For Zoe's friends, it is difficult to come to grips with the reality of her loss.

"I just thought this couldn't happen, but I had to believe it and I just thought I'm never going to see her again," said Katie, whose parents asked that her last name not be used.

"We kept saying it's not true. We can't get it through our heads," said Camila, whose parents also requested anonymity.

The Falkenberg family had been a part of the University Park, Maryland, community for 12 years. Their home, once teeming with activity, sits quietly on a tree-lined street.

"This family was an integral part of my daughter's growing up because we all shared child care together," said family friend Michele Dudash. "There are a lot of working families, and we act as one another's surrogate families."

For many parents, telling their children about Zoe's death was the worst part of this tragedy.

"We sat on our hammock in the back yard, and we told Kate that something terrible had happened," Dudash said. "We told her that Zoe and her family were gone, and she sobbed for an hour."


• NEA: Uniting Behind Our Children

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