Friday, September 11, 2009

The Story of a 9/11 Hero

On today, the anniversary of the terrorists' attacks against our nation, I find myself thinking of Tom Burnett. Does that name sound familiar to you? If you watched any of the non stop news coverage following the terrorists’ attacks on September 11, 2001, you've probably heard his name.

In the days and months to follow the attacks, Tom Burnett was named 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 said to be the leader of the attack on the cockpit that caused the plane to divert its path and crash in a field instead of its target. 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.

Granted I'm sure Tom Burnett was not the only birth parent to die on September 11th, I'm sure that others were triad members as well, but he is one that we know of.

I'll end with a quote out of a newspaper article by Tom's 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.”


  1. Eesh... Now I can't stop wondering how many adoptions were affected by 9/11...

  2. Jeremy Glick, judo black belt who heroically and selflessly gave his life to help aid in the attack of the highjackers of Flight 93 in PA was a judo black belt... Sensei Glick, was posthumously promoted to 10th Degree Black Belt, by the United States Judo Association...

  3. Hi Coley,

    I ran across your blog about my daughter quite by accident. I'm Cathy, Mariah's adoptive Mom. Thank you for the kind words. I'm considering writing a book about our adoption journey so that I never forget what happened and as something I can pass down to my future grandchildren.

    Mariah is currently a 2nd yr law student and thriving in that role. She just came back from visiting her three Burnett sisters in Little Rock and enjoys every minute with them.

    God Bless you and your beautiful family!

  4. A very moving story indeed. Thankyou for sharing it with us.