She lost her father on 9/11. Now she helps other children overcome grief.

·2 min read

Raleigh, North Carolina — At a camp for children who've suffered terrible loss, there's a counselor with a remarkable sense of compassion. It was born out of tragedy two decades ago.

When the World Trade Center was attacked on September 11, 2001, Port Authority engineer Franco Lalama was in his office on the 64th floor of the north tower. He didn't make it out.

His daughter, Katie Pereira, was just 7 years old.

"I used to love going to work with him. And then that day he goes to work and just doesn't come home," she said. "And I often think about what were his last moments like? Was he scared? Was he hurting?"

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That November, Pereira's mom took her and her sister to Comfort Zone — a camp for grieving children.

"It just felt good to really be in a place where I could be a kid and also get the support that I needed," Pereira said.

Katie is seen with her parents in this undated photo provided by her family.
Katie is seen with her parents in this undated photo provided by her family.

Lynne Hughes founded the camp after losing her own parents at a young age. Just three years later, Pereira arrived.

"Katie was just this big personality, smiling, bubbling with the contagious laugh," Hughes said. "This was her place. This was her tribe, and she was all in."

Pereira eventually married and now has a daughter she calls Frankie after the father she lost. She's also back at Comfort Zone, working full time at the place she credits with giving her life back.

"I do think that sometimes the stars align ... it was meant to be. It was just a little bit from something above," Hughes said.

Pereira was asked whether she feels like her life's come full circle.

"It has," she said. "I grew up thinking that good things couldn't happen to me ... but at some point I finally realized, 'No, good things can happen to you no matter what.'"

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