News & Politics

The Babies of 9/11: “Wise Beyond Her Years”

Amid the tragedies of September 11, 2001, came hope—in the faces of children born that day. Six years later, six families look back and talk about their 9/11 babies.

Jerry and Kathy Hotakainen visited New York’s Ground Zero last summer with Rachel and her brother, Eric. They’ve saved lots of newspapers from 9/11 for the kids. Says Kathy: “When they get older, we’ll let them read it all.”


When Rachel Hotakainen was two, a daycare provider read her a new book and the toddler recited it to playmates hours later, nearly word for word. The woman told Rachel’s mother, Kathy, that she thought her little girl had a photographic memory.

“This may sound crazy, but to me she’s always seemed wise beyond her years,” Kathy says. She thinks Rachel’s soul might have connected with older souls the day she was born.

When Kathy had Rachel, she worked at Stars and Stripes newspaper. Her husband, Jerry, had been a reporter for years. Kathy heard about the first plane when they were leaving for Washington Adventist Hospital in Takoma Park.

Kathy cried when her baby was placed into her arms. She says she felt guilty “to be holding a new life when so many people couldn’t hold a loved one.”

Rachel, a first-grader who likes ballet and dresses, knew even at three years old that people died on 9/11. She and her seven-year-old brother, Eric, have asked why the planes crashed.

“I try to tell them what I can—in their terms,” says Kathy, a graphic artist for the Department of Justice.

Someone suggested to Jerry that the family celebrate Rachel’s birthday on a different day. “It never occurred to me,” he says. “Pearl Harbor day comes around every year—it’s still people’s birthday.”

An eight-year-old who lived across the street from the Hotakainens in University Park lost her friend Zoe on 9/11. Zoe’s family was on the flight that hit the Pentagon. Before she moved away, the little girl had a special way of remembering Zoe: She’d bring Rachel a present on her birthday.

Photograph by Simon Bruty