Kids share 9/11 losses on 'Radio Rookies'

Eric Leinung, who was 12 when his brother Eric Leinung, who was 12 when his brother Paul died in the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center, sits in a WNYC radio studio where he is part of Radio Rookies with WNYC. (Sept. 1, 2011) Photo Credit: Craig Ruttle

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Reporters flooded John and Elaine Leinung with interview requests in the days and months after their son Paul Battaglia died on 9/11.

The interviews, however, didn't involve then 12-year-old Eric Leinung, who had lost the half brother he idolized.

Ten years later, Leinung has the chance to tell the story of the agony he felt after losing Battaglia, who worked as a consultant at Marsh & McLennan on the 100th floor of the north tower. He is one of six WNYC Radio Rookies -- all of whom were children on 9/11 -- who are producing autobiographical segments airing now until Sept. 11, and accessible at WNYC.org.

"The kids that were affected by 9/11 were sort of lost and I felt like I could give a voice to my generation," said Leinung, of Sheepshead Bay, Brooklyn. He is finishing up his bachelor's degree in theater at the C.W. Post Campus of Long Island University in Brookville.

In his radio segment, Leinung breaks down as he talks about the rage that pulsated through him after Battaglia, 22, died.

"Paul was the person who made peace in our household and I was making things worse," he tearily and guiltily reveals in a radio interview with his mother.

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Jillian Suarez, 9 when the attacks hit, couldn't bear to discuss 9/11 after her police officer father, Ramon, was killed while rescuing people from the north tower.

Suarez, 18 and done with her sophomore year at C.W. Post, said she was reluctant to participate in Radio Rookies because she didn't want to cry in front of anyone.

"I didn't want anybody to know what happened, but I opened up finally after 10 years," said the Glendale, Queens, resident. Suarez doesn't weep openly in her piece, but the painful silences during an interview with her mother are just as raw.

Erin Reeg's firefighter father, Robert, was critically injured when falling debris struck him as the first tower fell. She said that though she was supposed to feel lucky he survived, the man who returned from Ground Zero was almost a stranger to her.

"He lost his friends. He lost his health. He lost himself," said Reeg, now 21, of Stony Point, Rockland County, who in her segment said she began to differentiate between "old Dad" and "new Dad." She said that, as a child, she couldn't articulate the complex pain she associated with 9/11, but now has the life experience and Radio Rookies to put words to feelings.

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Reeg said that though her father's health has vastly improved, her hurt -- and his -- may never go away. "I know it's always going to be this constant thing in the back of my head," said the College of Saint Rose senior. "It's not always going to be a bad thing; it's just going to be a part of me."

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