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Children Of 9/11 Interviewby Pattye Grippo    

Children of 9/11

This is an interview with Janice Sutherland and Caitlin Langone on August 25, 2011 about the movie Children Of 9/11.

Question:
Caitlin, as a child impacted by 9/11 can you talk about how it still affects you today as compared to back then?

Caitlin Langone:
It affects me in the sense of my perspective. Like when I was going through high school for instance, things that my strike my peers as kind of a so to speak end of the world scenario like, "Oh, I lost my phone" or, "My car broke down. It's terrible" or not. You know, "I didn't get what I wanted at the store and it was terrible."

It gave me a good sense of perspective where that wasn't my end of the world scenario. My worst-case scenario is going to be somebody dying. So when I hear stuff like that, it - for that's what happens to me. It allows me to take a step back, breathe and realize this is not the end of the world. There's a solution to this that I can handle it. We got it. If I need help, I can call mommy. Like but this is not the end of the world. This is not the worst thing that can happen to me.

Question:
In what ways have you gained a great understanding of who your father was?

Caitlin Langone:
There's so many stories. I mean the great benefit of daddy being in NYPD and being involved as a volunteer firefighter is your family also become indoctrinated and into the brotherhood so to speak. So once daddy passed away, I was never really alone. So it was like having 20 or 30 brothers and uncles who could all tell you stories about daddy and "Tommy used to do this" or "Your father would say things like this" or "When he was at a meeting, he would feel like this" or "When your father entered a room, you could just feel" like so many stories.

Awesome stories that it just helps fill in all the parts of daddy that I didn't necessarily get to know mostly also because I was young. So some of the rescue stories that he would deal with weren't necessarily appropriate for a 10 to 12 year old. But they gave me a great sense of who he was, what he liked to laugh about, what kinds of things motivated him.

Like it was family. He loved to teach; was his greatest passion. He actually he loved dogs like me. And he was actually a really funny guy. Like they told me lots of funny stories. And I like it a lot because through the stories it still feels like he's here in a way because there's so many people who know him and not going to forget him.

Question:
Janice, how did you approach each child's story without losing the story and the emotional weight of what happened?

Janice Sutherland:
I really spent a lot of time with each of them really talking to them about what had happened to them and what happened in the years since. And although there were differences between them all, obviously there were, a lot of them had very common ground. That they'd gone through the same problems with their peers at school, that people treated differently or the one thing that came up very strong to most of the children I spoke to was this abiding sense of responsibility for the parent left behind.

Incredible responsibility that they didn't want to do anything on earth to upset that parent. And the fear of what would happen if they lost that parent. And so although they call came from different backgrounds all with different things to say, there was a thread running through them all where they all had this common experience of losing this person very close to them at a very young age. And they all shared that, that common bond.

Question:
Janice, why did a British company become so interested in doing a special on 9/11?

Janice Sutherland:
Because it's a very good idea. And I have to put my hand up and say it wasn't my idea. I think somebody initially approached the I think the Director of Darlow Smithson; his name is Tom Brisley, and suggested doing this. I think they'd read an article about one of the camps and said, "No one's ever". I'm sure there have been documentaries made in America. "No one's ever looked at the subject of the children and why don't we think about doing a film about the children."

And the British company, Darlow Smithson, I think it's a Channel 4. It's just a our cash independent television station. And they jumped at the idea and said, "Yes. It's a fantastic idea. No one's every looked at this properly. But we should be able to do it. Is it possible?" So that was my brief and I took it on maybe was could you make this film? Would you be able to get the children to talk about it? Would the parents be happy about the children talking about it?

And maybe that helps in a sense because it wasn't an American company that we were coming at it from a British perspective we tend to get longer form documentaries - 90 minute documentaries to our documentaries. So we could give the time to the subject. And this certainly the Channel 4 version is 90 minutes long whereas the NBC version is an hour long. So that's one reason why we were able to do it.

Question:
How did you go about finding the families?

Janice Sutherland:
Initially I went to one camp, Camp Hayes, which is over September, just before 9/11 they have 200 kids that go there. Most of them are children of 9/11 but some of them aren't. Some of them are children that just lost a parent recently and not very many I have to say. And I spent a lot of time with the organizers and I spent a week there and just hanging out with the kids and just talking to them. And initially they kind of looked at me and thought, "Oh, who is she, what does she want, why is she here" kind of thing. And I did with camera with an Assistant Producer.

And we just spent time with them. We went walking with them and played games with them and just got talking to them individually. And at the end of the week quite a few of them came forward and said, "You know, we'd like to take part in this. Can we talk to you?" And I said, "Yeah, of course". You now. And we sat down and did a few interviews with the camera at end of the week.

And then from them on I followed a few of those up but then we started to try and find other families via old press stories, by other victim support groups. We're just casting it very wide actually and just put the feelers out and found a few people, talked to them on the phone, went to see them. Spent a lot of time just going to meet people really last October, November and just to see if they're interested.

But a lot of them thought yeah I feel I might tell my story and it's our story's not often heard 9/11 from the children's perspective. Tends to have been overlooked from what I feel.

Question:
Caitlin, what made you want to be a part of this special?

Caitlin Langone:
It's actually really interesting. I wanted to say perhaps no. Five or six years ago I was still in high school. So News Day had approached us about wanting to do the children's perspective. So my motivation for then and still for now was as a young person was watching the reaction of the country post 9/11, I noticed there were a lot of victims groups that became prominent.

And they would say, "We represent the 9/11 families. The 9/11 families want this" or "We want it this way" or "The 9/11 families say this and we're representing them." And I always felt like, "Well no actually. You're not representing me or my family. Our views are actually quite a bit different from the so to speak mainstream views that the 9/11 victims group were promoting."

So I felt like the documentary was my opportunity to tell my story in my own words versus being interviewed by a reporter at the time like News Day and then having it interpreted. This was me saying it how I wanted to say it. It was my reaction, my expressions, my everything. So I always figured if you don't tell your story especially with something like this, somebody else is going to tell it for you. And you might not like how they tell it.

Question:
What have you been up to lately Caitlin?

Caitlin Langone:
I graduated from New Paltz, SUNY New Paltz, this August. I am working at a PetSmart in Kingston as a pet trainer for the dogs.

Janice Sutherland:
One of the reasons I took this project on is that I as an adult and as a parent myself, I was very used to hearing the experience with adults talking about losing their children. And that's what I emphasized with. That's what I'd been used to hearing about. And but the reverse. I had never really constituted the reverse. What if you were a child and you lost your parent? You lost your entire world. And not just you lost a parent. You've also got a remaining parent that you feel responsible for. And the actual responsibility on these children is tremendous and I've never really thought about that really prior to making this film.

It's hard talking to the kids and have them offload really about the burden that they carried for the last ten years. And some of them only one or two - the time to announce the some them of then 12, some now 22. But it's something they've had to deal with on their own really for the last ten years. And that was quite a shock to me really.

Question:
Do you find that it's hard to talk to people just in general like they don't really understand?

Caitlin Langone:
It is so hard. I tend not to tell people about my personal connection to 9/11 mostly because I find it puts them in such an awkward place. Like I personally don't mind talking about it. It doesn't cause me to become emotionally overwhelmed. In fact, I'm happy to share about daddy.

But I tried to consider the other person's point of view they don't know that happened to me. Then I tell them. Now they have to deal with - like they have to interpret that which is going to be probably a combination of shock, sympathy or empathy and then I just don't know how to deal with that. Like what do I say to that kind of a person.

And so it's almost like I feel badly for them because I have the knowledge that I was a victim. I've been able to process and deal with it for ten years. When I tell somebody who doesn't know, they have to process and understand it within like five minutes or 30 seconds or however long. They're like, "Ah, I'm so sorry." You know, "Oh my God." Like they don't know what to say. And I almost feel guilty so to speak for putting them in an awkward place.

Question:
How do you reject them ,especially when Republicans like to paint themselves friends of cops?

Caitlin Langone:
It's tough because it takes on like a life of its own and goes into all these other arenas where they lose focus on what really is the issue.

Question:
Janice, where do you find the stomach for it?

Janice Sutherland:
I get asked that question quite a lot and I honestly don't know an answer to it. I guess I'm kind of joined to people's real experiences really. You know, and yeah, I do tend to do the emotional subjects because those are the ones I find most interesting. If I get off to something happy go lucky, I kind of go not for me really. But this was a fantastic film to do. It really was. I mean it's just so great to meet all of these kids that are turned this awful, awful, awful thing around and sort of forced their lives. And life affirming really I thought.

Question:
Caitlin, can you talk about the special bond that you have with other children who lost parents during 9/11?

Caitlin Langone:
I have a bond with my brother and my cousins because we were always kept together, the way our family works. I was never the kind of person who would identify myself by one thing. So I never really went around being like, "Oh my God. You lost a father in 9/11. We should be friends now because I went through that too and we can empathize."

Like a girl in my middle school when it happened. A girl in my grade had a father who worked for Cantor Fitzgerald and he was on the 110th floor of the North tower. So she was hysterical when we found out that the planes had hit. Now after everything had happened we both found out that we were now victims of it. People sort of thought we would become friends but we never had anything in common beforehand. And just because we went through this one situation, we still didn't have anything in common outside from losing our fathers. I was never motivated to go seek out other 9/11 kids and become their friend is the short answer.

Question:
Janice, what type of impact did this project have on you guys compared to the other real life stories you've chronicled?

Janice Sutherland:
It just gave me a greater understanding of children really and how resilient they are. The fact that I'm not sure if I'd been in that situation myself how I would have coped with it. And I'm just astonished by how these children have coped with it really. That they have come through it. And they weathered most of them and sort of try to get on with their life and trying to deal with it.

I knew it would be a very sad film when I did it. I was hoping there was going to be some message how children deal with death. And I would say remarkably well. I think the trouble we have as adults that we don't know how to deal with death. We don't know how to talk to them about death. We don't know how to deal with them when there is a death in the family and often the children are kind of left on their own trying to figure their own way out or help. And lots of cases they're the ones that are helping their parents out. And I think that was quite an amazing lesson to me. Maybe they got lots to teach us.

Question:
So in a sense children are more resilient than we give them credit for?

Janice Sutherland:
Absolutely. Absolutely. And more pragmatic. You know, I remember fishing with Terry Strada who's the parent of Thomas Strada, Kaitlyn Strada and Justin Strada. I remember her saying that she did after Tom, her husband, died in a boat leaving Bermuda, that noise in the background. I remember her saying to me that Tommy's genius said, "Why can't we just all die? You know, we all go to heaven. We'll all be there together. And there won't be a problem. So what's the big issue?"

And she said, "You know, that's how children think. You know, they got very practical solutions to things." And he'd have this conversation with her and in the supermarket aisle at the checkout waiting to pay. And she'd go, "Okay. Let's get out of here quickly." You know. I was quite astonished by how resilient and solutions they would come up with. But at the same time I think it's fair to say Caitlin went through a lot that she lost her dad. And it took her a hell of a long time to come to some kind o way forward. But she can tell you more about that really.

I thought the way she articulated it when I spoke to her. Whatever occasion I saw her, she talked about it. She really thought about it, you know. She had worked it out. She had incredibly interesting insight. And I wouldn't have really. And to what had happened and how she was going to work her way through it.

Question:
What do you most hope that viewers will take away from watching this?

Caitlin Langone:
I just hope that like my truest wish regarding 9/11 is just for people to never forget. That's what we're promised so to speak so that's just what I hope for me. I've thought about it but I don't real good words. I hope it gives them a better understanding. I hope it makes it more personal for them. I know like for instance friends that I have made after the fact once I had told them I was a 9/11 victim said to me "Wow. You know, I never really felt" you know. They said, "I felt bad about it before but I never really had a connection to it. After I met you, it suddenly became personal."

So I hope by seeing it people feel a sort of more personal connection like I hope it becomes more real to them, the consequences aside from the consequences of having to take your shoes off at the airport and no one having three ounce bottles and all the inconveniences so to speak that have come sense. What I'm essentially saying is I hope the documentary allows people to remember and understand that there were real people affected and are continued to be affected. But you don't have to coddle us. You don't have to treat us with kid gloves. You know, you don't have to feel awkward about it or anything. Just if we want to talk, just listen. Like that's what we need.

Question:
There are quite a few 9/11 themed programs on all the different networks coming in the next few weeks. Will you watch any of them? Will you have a media blackout sort of?

Caitlin Langone:
I have watched in years past when there have been programs. I have watched them such as the I believe National Geographic had a special last year where they interviewed Rudy Giuliani. I would watch that. I will not be watching the interview with President Bush because I'm not a fan. A&E has the I Survived series. So they have a special coming out like I Survived 9/11 survivors like I'm not going to watch that. I will watch my documentary again just because I want to see the difference between the 90-minute versus the hour. But for the most part it's not like I have any set plans to like sit down and watch them.

But if I catch them on TV, I won't necessarily turn it off unless it's something that I really don't like or I feel like it's super politically angled or what have you. But it's fairly rare. So probably just will not be watching the Bush and the A&E. That's about it.

Question:
Janice, id the children have opportunities to meet each other while the filming process was going on?

Janice Sutherland:
No. They didn't actually. I was hoping to get some of them together near the end. But that didn't quite work out. So, not they're all very geographically dispersed. They're all over the place really. But I'm hoping now that once the program goes out to play, they will get together. I know that Caitlin has expressed an interest in meeting up with Rodney and Akina and that would be great if that happened.

Question:
What was your initial reaction to the different views between the parents and the children?

Janice Sutherland:
It is very interesting talking to parents who had obviously lived through it on the day, had been on the phone to the husband or the mother they lost and then speak to the children who most of the time had no idea what was going on other than I'm going to switch to Thea Trinidad. She was in the room with her mother when she got the call from her father. But most of the time the kids had no idea whatsoever. So you had this bazaar sort of parallel world, so the parents knew what was going on trying desperately not to let the kids know what was going on and the kids being just bewildered and confused as to what was happening.

And then afterwards excepting to one or two of the kids that they were very angry about that. They were very angry that we didn't know what happened to their father or their mother that day that they thought they're being kept in the dark. But you got to think about what was happening at the time. What would you do in that situation? I don't know.

So the kids really most of the time when I spoke to them, and Caitlin was the same, you know. Like she said, she was at school when it happened and she was automatically worried about the girl in the class whose father works on the 110th floor at Cantor Fitzgerald and she had now inkling. And she said it herself, my father would go there but she had no inkling he'd be there at the time.

I can't imagine what it'd be like to one minute wake your father up in the morning or your mother up in the morning and then come home and then they're not there. And nobody's actually explaining to you where they are. And it's become a part of the days on end but they're not coming back. Very difficult. Very difficult. I think Tommy Strada, the 17 year old boy, he didn't find out for weeks that his father died because his mother wanted to make absolutely sure that he didn't come up on any of the lists.

So he spent a week just hoping, you know. He's never going to walk back through the door and of course he didn't. So he understood why his mother had done it but very difficult.

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