Ever since I found out that Tom Burnett, considered to be one of the heroes from the September 11th tragedies that struck the United States in 2001 was a birthfather, I find myself thinking of him and his birth daughter each and every September 11th. I am sure that there were other people lost on September 11th who had some sort of personal connection such as adoptees, birth parents or birth family members, and adoptive parents but those stories aren’t as well known as the one of Tom Burnett.
On September 11, 2001 Tom Burnett was flying home from New York to California on United Flight 93. He is one of the passengers who led and helped the attack on the terrorists aboard Flight 93 causing the plane to crash in a field in Pennsylvania. At the time Tom died he was married to his wife Deanna and raising three daughters.
But Tom had a birth daughter as well. 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.
In 2004, a young woman named Mariah Mills turned 19 years old. Adopted at birth, Mariah sent off for her original birth certificate wanting to find her birth parents. She recognized her birth father’s name as Tom Burnett, one of the 9/11 heroes.
Unsure of what to do at that point, Mariah’s mother sent word through Catholic Charities, that Mariah was interested in meeting them. They too were interested in meeting her. They were unsure what Tom’s family and his wife, Deena, knew of Mariah’s birth and adoption.
Mariah volunteered to have a DNA test just to be sure she was indeed Tom’s daughter. Her DNA was tested against a sample of Tom’s and proves that she is “absolutely, without a doubt” Tom’s daughter.
Mariah has now ended up meeting most of her birth family, including Deena, Tom’s daughters, parents, and sisters. 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’ll conclude this tribute to Tom Burnett with one of my favorite quotes from Mariah Mills:
“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.”