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America Recovers: Children Dealing With Loss of Family

Aired September 26, 2001 - 05:27   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
CAROL LIN, CNN ANCHOR: Among the victims at the Pentagon was a little girl traveling with her parents on the hijacked jet. Parents are now struggling to explain the little girl's absence to their children, and the children are trying to explain what's in their heart.

CNN's Kathy Slobogin has more.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

KATHY SLOBOGIN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): They look like most 9-year-olds fresh from a soccer game, happy to be together. But look again, these 9-year-olds are different; death has come to their neighborhood.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Zoe was born November 8, 1992.

SLOBOGIN: They are preparing a memorial service for one of their own. Zoe Falkenberg died on the plane that crashed into the Pentagon, along with her parents, Charles Falkenberg and Leslie Whittington and her 3-year-old sister, Dana. They were on their way to Australia for a two-month stay.

Zoe was their friend. She played on their soccer team, danced in their ballet classes, was in their school play -- and now she's gone.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: When I heard, I was really shocked. And I was just speechless.

SLOBOGIN: These children live in a close-knit Maryland community called University Park, a town of about 900 people. The Falkenbergs had lived there for 12 years.

Patrice Pascual and Michele Dudash were close friends of the family.

MICHELE DUDASH: This family was an integral part of my daughter growing up because we all shared childcare together. There are a lot of working families; we act as one another's surrogate families.

PATRICE PASCUAL: Our daughters both got calls from Zoe the night before the plane crashed, because she had had a really exciting day, and she wanted the girls to know she had ridden in a limousine. She was just excited about everything. SLOBOGIN: The memories of Zoe are what they have left here. She collected snow globes, was a terror on a scooter, and had nearly 50 Beanie Babies.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: When I think of Zoe, I think of playing Beanie Babies; I think of her as my sister, because we have known each other since we were 6 months old; I think of a nice, caring person that's always there for you; and she is just Zoe -- you can't exactly describe such a good person like her.

SLOBOGIN: The plane that blasted the Pentagon blasted a hole in the heart of this town. The worst was telling the children what had happened.

PASCUAL: We sat on our hammock in the backyard, and we told Kate that something terrible had happened, and we told her that Zoe and her family were gone, and she sobbed for an hour.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: 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.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We kept saying it's not true. We can't get it in our heads.

CHILDREN (singing): Oh, beautiful for spacious skies

SLOBOGIN: This week, the children are trying to find some peace with the memorial service at their school.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Zoe was a good friend of mine. I miss her terribly.

SLOBOGIN: It's a service for their friend Zoe, and the other children who perished. But it's also for them.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I feel really proud because I feel like I'm in everything, and I'm not being left out.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It's sort of like a gift that we have to be able to express our feelings about Zoe, and that we get to do something for Zoe.

SLOBOGIN (on camera): Does it make any of you feel better about it?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes, because Zoe's watching us, and I think she would really appreciate this.

SLOBOGIN (voice-over): Their parents say the children are emotionally volatile. Some want to sleep with their parents. Some beg them not to fly. They are haunted by the question were the children on the plane afraid?

PASCUAL: Were they afraid? And I said, no. The parents wouldn't -- let them be afraid. They would have comforted them as much as they could, and they wouldn't have known, and we have to draw comfort from that.

SLOBOGIN: Comfort is scarce. The parents find it in the sense of community the Falkenbergs were so much a part of. The children find it where they can.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I'm happy because I know where she is. She knows that nothing can hurt her, and she knows that none of the hijackers will go there, so she's safe.

SLOBOGIN: The children draw strength from each other, say their parents. They seem happiest when they're together.

Kathy Slobogin, CNN, University Park, Maryland.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

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