Allison Lee, Whose Dad Died on 9/11 on His Way to See Her Being Born: 'There's Always an Empty Spot'

"I find out new things about him every day," the teen tells PEOPLE

Photo: Kellie Lee

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Daniel Lee was working as a stagehand for the Backstreet Boys and had just finished up the Boston leg of the band’s tour when he jumped on a plane to get home: his wife Kellie would be having their second daughter any moment.

Awaiting his return after not seeing him for weeks, Kellie’s excitement turned to dread as she realized he was aboard Flight 11, the first plane to hit the World Trade Center Towers.

“I hadn’t heard from him, and it seemed like almost immediately people started showing up at my house – people that knew already and had heard and were crying,” says Kellie. “It all kind of fell apart at that moment for me.”

Their daughter, Allison, arrived on September 13, 2011. She is one of six teens profiled in this week’s PEOPLE who were born after their fathers died on 9/11.

After Allison’s birth, says Kellie,”I was just going, I was moving. I had a newborn baby, I had a 2 ½-year-old, so I just kind of did what I had to do and just kept moving forward.”

For more on Lee and other Children of 9/11, pick up the latest issue of PEOPLE, on newsstands now

Now nearly 15, Allison and her older sister Amanda, 17, stay connected to their dad through mementos, including his old band t-shirts that Amanda made into a quilt, and stories about him passed along by friends and family.

“He’s just sort of in everyday life, especially with social media,” says Amanda. “I can scroll through my phone and find pictures of him. Music that he liked and bands that he worked for – stuff that is little but keeps us connected.”

“It was hard growing up,” she admits. “Understanding he was gone and understanding what happened were two different points in my life.”

As she learned the details, she says, “It kind of felt like I was on one side of a wall and everyone else was on another side of a wall. I had to grow up a little faster.”

For Allison, her birthday is a bittersweet time.

“Growing up, I didn’t understand what had happened fully so I was just excited for my birthday. Now on September 11, we celebrate my dad’s life instead of being too sad. We still remember him, but we’ve gotten past the sad part.”

Still, she says, “There’s always an empty spot. I find out new things about him every day.”

This year, she and her dance troupe decided to honor him. “We did a dance dedicated to my dad,” she says. “It was called ‘Never Forget.’ ” It was to Pink Floyd’s ‘Is There Anybody Out There?’ He liked Pink Floyd.” As Amanda explains, “It’s supposed to be like you’re reaching for someone who is no longer there.”

Now that 15 years have passed, Allison says if she could speak to her dad, she would say, “I love you. And I know you’re a cool guy even though I don’t know you. But I do at the same time.’ “

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