"I always knew that I was different," Robyn Higley says of losing her dad on 9/11

By Liz McNeil and Kathy Ehrich Dowd
Updated September 11, 2016 08:55 AM
Credit: Courtesy Vycki Pratt

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“I never grieved,” Robyn Higley says of her father, Robert, who died in the South Tower of the World Trade Center on 9/11. “I just knew he was gone.”

Robyn is one of six teens profiled in this week’s PEOPLE who were born after their fathers died on 9/11.

“I always knew,” says the 14-year-old high schooler, who was born seven weeks after 9/11. “It’s just been who I am. I knew from the second I could understand things. I always knew that things were different and that I was different.”

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

On September 11, 2001, Robert Higley, an Aon Insurance executive, was working on the 92nd floor of the South Tower when United Airlines flight 175 flew into the building.

Robert, who had been working with 12 new employees that morning, made sure they got into an elevator safely and then stayed behind to make sure everyone else had evacuated. He never made it out.

Robyn’s older sister Amanda, who was 4 ½ in 2001, has her own memories of that terrible time.

“I threw a fit and sat out on the front porch of our house for weeks just watching the cars drive by, hoping to see that really ugly green jeep of his drive up,” says Amanda, 19. “I didn’t want to believe it. Because being 4, there’s no man that a young girl can look up to more than her father.”

Robyn acknowledges it’s been more difficult for her sister, who remembers their dad. “We were born into this,” says Robyn. “The teenagers were the real victims, who had to deal with the loss and losing someone who was so close to them.”

The sisters have a close but complicated relationship, and both have grappled with feelings of envy toward each other.

“I’ll be honest, when Robyn first started getting a lot of the attention for being a 9/11 baby I was jealous,” says Amanda. “I was very jealous because I always felt like the babies got more of the attention than the older kids. I always kind of felt like in her shadow.”

At the same time, Robyn realizes she can never have the time Amanda spent with their dad. “She got to see him smile,” she says.

“She’s jealous of me because I got all the attention,” says Robyn. “To be honest, I kind of hated it because I didn’t know him yet [I’m asked] how I feel to grieve someone I didn’t know.”

Their mom, Vycki Higley-Pratt, admits Robyn is “confused about how she fits in.

“She knows she lost her dad, but didn’t really lose her dad, whereas Amanda had four and a half years with Rob and knew him as much as a four-year-old can.”

Still, the sisters share a deep bond.

“Me and Amanda have a lot in common,” says Robyn. “We are kind of the only two people who understand what it’s like, so we can really open up to each another when we really can’t open up to other people.”

As she grows up, Robyn is inspired by her dad’s final act of bravery.

“I call my dad a hero. He is a hero,” she says. “I want to be like him, I want to be able to do anything to help people, and he was selfless. I know that I can make a difference and every kid can make a difference. I mean, this is going to be my world someday.

“The world should be a place where it’s okay to say who you are, love who you love and believe what you believe,” she says. “I know there are people who are making the world an unsafe place to live, but even if we’re different, I believe that underneath we’re all the same.”