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There are times when Gabriel Dick imagines his father’s last moments on September 11, 2001.
“I see my dad walking into the building,” says 14-year-old Gabriel, who goes by Gabi. “I see him on the top floor and then I think he knows he’s gonna die, but he’s at peace and he’s just hoping my mom and I are gonna be okay.”
Gabi’s dad, Ariel Jacobs, was attending a conference in the World Trade Center’s North Tower when the first plane struck the building around 8:45 a.m. Six days later, his widow, Jenna Jacobs, welcomed Gabi into the world. He is one of six children profiled in this week’s PEOPLE who weren’t yet born when their fathers died in the 9/11 attacks.
“I’m very lucky that I had Gabi so soon after Ari died, because I had somewhere to put my love and someone who needed me to be well,” says Jacobs. “Because I don’t think I would have been well by myself, but my baby needed me to be well.”
For more on Gabi and other Children of 9/11, pick up the latest issue of PEOPLE, on newsstands Friday
Today, Gabi feels a connection to the father he closely resembles. “Some people believe in God or the greater power, but I believe in the people that loved you or would have loved you sticking around after they die and guiding you through whatever troubles you have in life,” he says. “But I also know he’s out there – somewhere, guiding me along my path in life.”
While his mom describes him as an amazingly “normal teenager” who loves his skateboard and lives with “humor and grace,” both admit Ari’s traumatic death has resulted in occasional anxiety.
“I get anxious, mostly kinda when I’m reliving my father’s last steps,” he says. “So getting on an elevator I’ll have a panic attack, getting on an airplane I’ll freak out and I’ll scream and I won’t care what anyone else thinks because it’s my experience.”
Gabi began to understand his father’s death when he was six years old and took part in a therapy group – although he initially had his own ideas about the identities of the terrorists.
“[A therapist] asked us to draw our feelings when we were in that group and I drew a picture of the burning building,” he explains. “That’s what I remember most about kind of realizing that there was a plane that had hit the building my father was in. I always thought it was the bad guys from The Incredibles that shot the building down, and later I learned from stories and magazines and TV coverage that a plane had hit the building.”
Now, to mark the anniversary of 9/11, he and his mom send red balloons into the sky bearing notes to Ari.
“It’s how we communicate with him,” says Gabi, “because I’ve tried telepathy and it doesn’t work. But I guess the sky opens and lets these balloons up with the notes. It’s a mail system that he gets our little notes – that’s what we like to think at least.”
As the anniversary approaches once again, he says, “I’d like the average person to know that this hasn’t broken me.
“I know that I missed out, but I don’t need people to feel sorry for me because there’s nothing for me to remember. I just need them to understand that I lost something.”