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9/11 victims' kids meet at band camp

Alina LaTouche, 21, and Juan Martinez, 18, both

Alina LaTouche, 21, and Juan Martinez, 18, both students at Stony Brook University and band members who have discovered their shared experience of 9/11 at Stony Brook University in Stony Brook. (Sept. 10, 2012) Credit: Ed Betz

Like many college organizations, Stony Brook University's marching band is tight-knit, with members describing the group as family.

But within those loving confines, senior Alina LaTouche and freshman Juan Martinez have an even more special bond.

LaTouche was 10 years old when her father, Jeffrey LaTouche, a waiter at the Windows on the World restaurant at the top of the World Trade Center, died in the 9/11 attacks.

Martinez was beginning second grade when the planes hit.

His mother, Awilda Martinez, escaped by running away from her dental hygienist job in lower Manhattan. She suffered serious lung damage and now suffers from respiratory illnesses and fatigue.

The two students discovered each other at the band camp held on campus in August.

Their shared histories have cemented a deep friendship.

"When we found out about each other, we just hugged and just knew we understood everything," Martinez said Monday as he sat on a campus bench next to LaTouche, an arm around her shoulders.

"I feel like I've never really met anyone who understands," she said softly.

Martinez, 18, is an only child. He said that during band camp drills last month -- he plays sousaphone -- he became overwhelmed by the experience and by leaving his Brooklyn home for the first time.

"I wasn't feeling right because I wanted to go home," he said.

"I've been taking care of my mother since second grade."

Other band members encouraged him to share his emotions. As he spoke, Martinez said, he began to cry. Among those who comforted him was LaTouche, a resident of Jamaica in Queens whom he had just met.

"I feel like it was good for him to be here, and good for me to be here for him," said LaTouche, who plays the cymbals and is one of the chairs of the percussion section.

She recalled her father's death 11 years ago.

"We were really close," she said. "After he passed, I felt a part of me was missing. It was a difficult time, but I had to be there for my mom."

Now LaTouche, a health science major, is looking to the future, with plans to apply to graduate school to study public health.

Martinez, a marine vertebrate biology major and music minor, is excited about bringing his mother to campus for the band's Family Day on Oct. 20.

But they said they would try to live their normal lives Tuesday.

"Class, I guess. You keep on living," Martinez said.

"I guess I'll call my mom and my sister and make sure they're OK," LaTouche said.

"You learn to deal," Martinez added. "But the pain comes back."

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