Every year on the anniversary of the September 11th attacks on our country, like many others, I find myself re-living those moments of where I was when I found out about the attack on our country. Eight months pregnant with a baby boy I was about to place for adoption and on bed rest, I sat on my couch in disbelief as I watched the towers fall to the ground. In the days that followed, I watched some of the constant coverage. Amongst the tragedy there were stories of triumph and courage as Americans rose above the tragedy to help one another.
If you watched any of the coverage in the days and weeks following the attacks you may remember hearing the name Tom Burnett. He was one of the heroes aboard Untied Flight 93. You may remember that passengers overtook Flight 93 and caused it to land in a field in Pennsylvania. Tom Burnett, who grew up a Minnesotan, was flying home to California from a business trip to New York and is thought to be one of the people who attacked the cockpit which caused the plane to divert its path and crash in a field. Tom called his wife Deena multiple times from the plane telling her what was going on and that he loved her and the three daughters they were raising.
So, you are probably thinking, “Ok, I know all this already…”
But, did you know Tom Burnett was a birthfather?
While in college, Tom Burnett’s then girlfriend became pregnant in an unplanned pregnancy. The two were opposed to abortion and initially wanted to get married and parent. Tom was very involved in the pregnancy, working two jobs to pay for medical bills and present for his daughter’s birth. Eventually, the two decided it would be best for the baby if she was placed for adoption.
Two years after the terrorist attacks, Mariah Mills, turned nineteen and was finally old enough to request her original birth certificate from the state. The name Tom Burnett was very familiar in her area and she quickly realized that her birthfather was one of the 9/11 hereos.
Unsure of what Tom’s wife, Deena, and the rest of his family knew about the adoption and how they would feel about this, Mariah’s mother sent word through the agency that had handled Mariah’s adoption that Mariah was interested in meeting her other birth relatives. It turns out that Tom had told his wife about the daughter he placed for adoption and even showed her a letter that he had been writing to Mariah over the years in the hopes that they would one day be reunited.
Mariah has ended up meeting most of her birth family, including Deena, Tom’s daughters, parents, and sisters. She has been welcomed in by most of them. She has ongoing relationships with her half sisters and Deena. She has gotten to know the type of man and father Tom Burnett was through his family and Deena was even able to give her a letter that Tom had started writing to Mariah when she was younger for the day they would be reunited.
I love this quote from a newspaper article by Tom's (birth) daughter, Maraiah, “Even if he’d never been on that plane on September 11th, he’d still be a hero to me. He gave me life and a chance with a wonderful family.”
I know that Tom Burnett was probably not the only birthparent who lost their life that day and he certainly was not the only one with a direct connection to adoption either. Today, I'm remembering and thinking of all those and their families who lost their lives on September 11th, 2001.