"When I look at her I see him," 9/11 wife Jill Pila says of daughter Jamie
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It’s one of the only times Jamie Gartenberg Pila has ever heard her father’s voice. When James Gartenberg was trapped inside the 86th floor of the North Tower on September 11, 2001 after the first plane hit, he spoke to WABC to share what he was witnessing as the towers burned.
“If I’m on the air, I want to tell anybody that has a family member that may be in the building that the situation is under control for the moment and the danger has not increased,” Gartenberg, a commercial real estate broker who had gone to work early that day to clean out his office before a move uptown, told the station. “So please, all family members take it easy.”
“He had to know that he was not making it out of there,” says his wife Jill Pila, who was three months pregnant with her daughter Jamie at the time. “He did not know what the buildings looked like [from the outside], and that the world has stopped.”
Those final moments are one of the only times his younger daughter Jamie, 14, has heard her father speak. She is one of six teens profiled in this week’s PEOPLE who were born after their fathers died on 9/11.
Listening to her dad’s last words, “it really does prove to me what an amazing and brave person he really was,” says Jamie, who was born six months and one day after September 11.
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“My mom tells me all the time that I’m like [my dad],” says Jamie. “She says I’m brave like him.”
Older sister Nicole, 17, who was 2 ½ when he died, cherishes her few warm memories of her father and is grateful for her younger sister.
“Everyone should have someone like him in their life: Someone who is so selfless and so brave and so kind,” Nicole says through tears. Jamie, she says, “is my best friend. When I look at her, I see him. She’s the last present he left for us.”
Jamie was just 2 years old and Nicole was 5 when her mother remarried widower Jay Pila, who was also raising two young children alone. The New Jersey-based pair blended their families and now the girls consider their stepfather to be their dad – even as they never forget their biological father.
“I think we’re a happy family, and I think beyond that, we’re a very strong family given all we’ve been through together,” says Nicole.
A gifted athlete, Jamie plays basketball, tennis and hockey and became the first girl to make the elite hockey team at her summer camp. “She has no hesitation about trying something new: She’ll go on any rollercoaster, she’ll go down any mountain on her snowboard,” says her mom Jill. “She has no fear.”
Though she is thriving, she continues to grieve for the father she never met.
“I wish he was here with me,” says Jamie, who along with her sister hopes to attend his alma mater, the University of Michigan. Together, the family raises money for the James M. Gartenberg Scholarship fund set up in his name to help kids in the New York metro area attend the university. Says Jill: “Jim would be so proud to know that the generosity of others helps benefit other students.”
If she could speak to him today, Jamie says, “I’d probably tell my dad about me. And that I love him and all the accomplishments I made in my life – and to thank him for everything.”