20 Years On, How Young People Born After 9/11 Have Come to View the Day and Say How It Has Shaped Them
Inside Edition Digital spoke with three adolescents, including a preteen whose grandfather died on Sept. 11, 2001, and a teen born on that day. And while the next generation wasn’t present for 9/11, many have felt the reverberations of that fateful day.
And when 9/11 is discussed, they have tangible memories they can refer to, reflect on and share.
But how can you never forget when you weren't there? For anyone in their early 20s or younger, their views of 9/11 are different. They were either alive and are too young to remember, or they were not born yet.
In that case, is it just another day for them? Are they affected by specifics of that tragic day in the same manner? And how do they perceive the events of that day?
Inside Edition Digital chatted with three young adults, Kaden Frisch, 14, Dayton Frederick, 19, and Chloe Downey, 11, who’ve all been affected differently by the events of that day. They give insight into how they are learning and being exposed to the tragedies on September 11, 2001.
“I just, I remember it being like a date of something tragic, something horrible,” Kaden said. He lives in Washington State, and for him, 9/11 is something he began learning about when he was seven.
“It does bring emotion to me,” he said. “Every year at the start of the school year, we always have something, on the day, 9/11. Each year we have a little presentation about what happened that day and why it should be remembered.”
Kaden explained that since he’s younger, his school doesn't really detail modern history, but during the presentation held on the anniversary, he is exposed to the events of September 11, 2001. His parents also educate him at home.
“They tell me just how devastated they were to see that. And how shocking that was,” he said. “ [At the time], they’re probably thinking like this isn't really happening, it's a dream, which is a normal response to that kind of thing.”
“I wanted to see the 9/11 thing in particular because I realized the importance of it and how it’s still very fresh in the mind of a lot of people," he said.
He researched it in detail before visiting. And while there, he found it both informative and emotional.
“I think the beginning was the most moving part. They have like this wall that showed people around the world saying when they first learned about it and when they first saw it on TV.”
While there, he viewed artifacts, videos, images and more.
“They have, like, a column in there. A ton of pieces from each of the towers. They have a fire truck, and the bottom of that staircase that they removed from a subway station…each artifact has its own story," he said.
“I remember one of the things that I saw in the museum was like this coat rack, and it had ash on that they somehow preserved from that day,” he added. “And it just made me wonder, like how, who was wearing them? How did they manage to keep the ash on there for all that time?”
Overall, Kaden said the experience was beneficial.
“I wanted to go there so I could be a part of that," he said. "So I could remember those people, you know, and remember what their stories are.”
For Chloe Downey, the ties to 9/11 run deep within her family. Although she is only 11, she knows about the events of that day, and how devastating they are because it was the day her grandfather, FDNY Special Operations Command Deputy Chief Raymond M. Downey Senior, was killed in the line of duty.
“It’s a special day for everyone in my family,” Chloe said. “What my Poppy did for everyone on that day, trying to save so many people.”
“He went into the first building, and he saved a lot of people. He came out, and when the second tower came down, he saved most of the people and was standing right there.”
Raymond M. Downey had nearly 40 years on the job as a New York City fireman. His experience was unparalleled, and as one of the highest-ranking firemen in the city, Downey was also the New York task force leader. That task force had been involved in helping in any way possible during many other tragic events, including hurricanes that devastated Puerto Rico and the Oklahoma City bombing in 1995.
In addition, Raymond was a highly-respected teacher and author.
He was due to retire at 65. His 64th birthday would have been Sept. 19, 2001.
Chloe’s father, Raymond Downey Jr., said that over the years, they've traced his own father's likely movements that day through stories they've heard from others.
“When the second tower came down, my father was in the street in front of the north tower. And him and all the big chiefs went into the parking garage there," he told Inside Edition Digital.
But before Raymond M. Downey Sr.’s untimely death, he saved many lives, and he died a hero.
“There was a guy from Iowa who was saved in the Marriott hotel from the collapse,” Downey Jr. said. “And he identified my father as pulling him out.”
Chloe has heard stories about her grandfather her entire life. The events of 9/11 are a part of her family's history.
“The first thing that I learned about 9/11 was how the attack happened and the memory of how he saved lives," she said.
Chloe has been to the 911 Memorial and she's seen artifacts firsthand from the site of the attack. Her family has a cross they cut out from one of the tower beams. They also have debris in a jar and other sentimental objects on display.
She’s also learned through the years about how the events of that day affected her loved ones. “They felt sad and nervous that if he was going to get out alive,” she said of her grandfather.
Losing Raymond Sr. was tragic for the Downey family. But they’ve found ways to keep his memory alive and honor him annually.
Raymond Sr.'s dedication to running was inherited by much of his family. So every year on Father’s Day, the Long Island family all run a 5K race. The event draws thousands of runners and guests, raises money and it’s a way to bond.
And it’s also a way for Chloe and the other 15 grandchildren to be closer to their grandfather.
Raymond M. Downey Sr.’s wife, Rosalie Downey, created a scholarship fund right after his passing, and for the last 20 years, has helped children and families in need. In total, they’ve given away almost $1 million.
And what gives comfort to Raymond Sr.’s family is that he died doing what he loved, and he’s still a hero every day.
“He loved his job" Chloe said. "And he wanted to do that to save other people and risk his life for other people.”
Dayton Frederick, 19, is indirectly tied to 9/11 forever. That’s because it’s the day they were born.
“I always joke to people that my birthday is very hard to forget,” they said.
Dayton and their mother, Mary Frederick, are from Merrill, Wisconsin. And Dayton said the day has always carried with it conflicting emotions.
“I grew up in a private Christian school and our days usually started and ended in prayer," they said. "I found out very early that 9/11 was a scary day because we would always pray for the people we lost and have a heavy moment of silence during church.
“However, my mom and I had always planned big birthday parties for that day, and I couldn't help but be excited for that day to come despite its tragic circumstances," they continued.
Dayton began learning about 9/11 in elementary school. And as they got older, they became more aware of the details of that day.
“In elementary school, we would always review what happened on 9/11 and how it changed our little lives, in what few ways were relevant to us," they said. "During middle school and high school, teachers would go more in-depth about how the events changed our security systems and would show movies and documentaries that held live footage of the towers collapsing.”
But at the same time, it's impossible for Dayton to view that day in anything but a personal lens, as it's the day they came into the world.
“My mother always talked about what happened that day with a hint of wonderment, along with a healthy amount of maternally protective anger," they said.
Mary Frederick’s due date for Dayton was always Sept. 11, 2001. Her water broke the day before, and she was induced at noon. After over 12 hours in complicated labor that almost killed them both, Dayton arrived at 1:33 a.m.
However, Mary had no idea the day would have such a dark cloud over it.
“It started out a good day,” she said. "After catching a couple of hours of sleep, I was getting to know my beautiful little bundle and watching some morning program. The show was interrupted by breaking news of the first tower being hit when everyone still thought it was just a terrible accident. When the second tower was hit, I knew right away it was an attack.
“To this day, I still have trouble describing the fear that cut through my heart at that realization: fear for the people of New York, fear for what this meant for the country, fear for what kind of world I had brought my child into," she said. "The hospital was buzzing with speculation and fear and worry, and all I could do was look at this precious child and realize that their entire life, their birthday would be overshadowed by tragedy.”
She said that at that moment, she saw a plaque in her room with words that helped her persevere. “A baby is God’s way of saying that the world should go on,” it read.
“As these words hit home,” Mary said. “I cuddled my little one closer and said a prayer of thanks that my baby was safe and healthy.”
Even so, the attacks clouded for Mary and her family the outlook of the entire day.
“I mean, how could it not?" Mary noted. "However, being able to celebrate new life on such a dark day really put things into perspective for myself and my family about how precious life is. Dayton was the rainbow after the tornado.”
Dayton said that their mom always reassures people when she talks about her birthing experience.
“She makes sure to mention to anyone with superstition that, ‘No, they happened before the time of the attack, so they were not born with the soul of one of the people who died,’ and so on and so forth," Dayton said. "She's always been careful to make sure I knew that I had nothing to do with the attack or the attackers, since some kids were wont to poke fun at me about it.”
Dayton processed the events of 9/11 growing up by listening to music. And for years, they had no idea their favorite song was about that day.
“It was at around 4 years old that I discovered my first ever favorite song, and it remains a nostalgic favorite to this day. It's called ‘Believe,’ by Yellowcard. But what I didn't know was that it was a tribute to the firefighters who died that day," they said.
“I only learned about that maybe five years later, when I was able to understand the events of that day a little better. I still find it funny that I latched on to it so quickly as a kid when I didn't even know how much it meant to us.”
Dayton's birth date was a source of interest for some at a young age, but as they get older, people don’t often react to it.
“Back when it was still a fresh wound, people were really surprised when they would hear that it's my birthday. I got a lot of raised eyebrows when I was little," they said. "I think in the areas it affected the least, like chilly little Wisconsin, it's become a faded memory by this point. Now I'm the one who's surprised when I go to the doctor and tell the receptionist my birthday, and they don't even flinch anymore.”
For Mary, processing the coincidence took some time to work through.
“Aside from the fear and the grief from the attack, I was also relieved to have made it through the birth, exhausted on a level I had never known, elated to finally meet my beautiful, perfect child, and furious," she said. "Absolutely furious.”
“It felt very selfish, but I couldn’t help being so mad that this happened today of all days,” she continued. “Like, this was my due date. I felt like I called it first, you know? I felt so guilty for feeling that way when so many lives were destroyed. It took a long time to make peace with that and realize that it was normal to feel that way. I had a great support system of family and friends that helped me realize that.”
And now, she and the rest of her family work on separating the tragedies of 9/11 from Sept. 11, Dayton’s birthday.
“We always have a party and celebrate and try to make the day about Dayton," she said. "I like to take time on that day to reflect and think about that day, and think about the people who were killed and hurt and affected by the tragedy.
“I think Dayton does as well now that they’re older," she continued. "We’ve talked a lot about the event over the years, but it’s separate from the celebration of the day because the terrorists destroyed so much that day. I won’t let them take my kid’s joy as well. “
The New Generation
The tragedies endured on 9/11 are those that stuck with Americans and the world over. For the new generation, they’ve not experienced anything similar, but they still have tragedies of their own that they’ve lived through.
The memories of Hurricane Sandy grip Chloe. Although only three at the time, she has vivid memories about how it affected loved ones and her community.
“I was really little and seeing how bad the basements got flooded and seeing how many things got destroyed," she said. "So many houses got destroyed.”
For Kaden, the most gripping tragedy to him is the COVID-19 outbreak. “The pandemic was life-changing for everyone,” he said.
“The only other thing that I can think is comparable to that is the Capitol [Assault]. I saw that on TV,” he said. “Harvey, Harvey in Houston. That’s one I remember. And the fires in California, I remember those, too. And those are still happening right now.”
For Dayton, they say the most comparable tragedy for their generation is also the pandemic.
“And very comparable to the events of 9/11 in terms of severity and consequences,” they say. “In fact, I would go so far as to say that there's a remarkable similarity in which people have gotten not only scared for their lives but also were blaming an entire race of people for the actions of the infinitesimal minority.
“I obviously can't even begin to imagine the hatred and prejudice originating from irrational fear that American Muslims faced after 9/11, but it is not surprising to me that as a result of the pandemic reportedly originating in Asia that the Asian Americans of our country received similarly unfair and unforgivable treatment," they continued. "It's clear to me that ignorance remains to be the recurring enemy in these events.”
Educating the Next Generation
For those interested in learning more about 9/11, there are many resources. One is the Never Forget Fund. The Never Forget Fund is a campaign that supports the 9/11 Memorial & Museum’s educational programs. In addition, they preserve the museum's significance as a sacred place of remembrance, reflection and education.
And as their website states, much of their focus is educating the new generation.
“For a new generation, the hope, unity, and resilience we experienced after 9/11 are not memories lived, but history learned," the website says. "The 9/11 Memorial and Museum works to train teachers, educate students, and assist communities to understand the importance of the values we shared 20 years ago."
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