Glendale teacher’s film explores lives of those who lost parents on 9/11

Brenda Larsen (l.) talks about her hero firefighting father who was one of the 343 FDNY members killed in the Sep. 11 attacks, with film director Delaney Colaio.
Coutesy We Go Higher
By Bill Parry

For nearly 16 years, Brenda Larsen kept her stories deep inside, rarely discussing the loss of her father in the Sept. 11 attacks at the World Trade Center. The kindergarten teacher at PS 306 in Woodhaven was one of 3,051 children who lost a parent on 9/11 and hadn’t had a collective voice about their loss until production began on the first documentary by and about the 9/11 kids.

Larsen was one of 70 people who agreed to be interviewed by filmmaker Delaney Colaio, who was 3 years old when her father Mark and two uncles died when the Twin Towers collapsed. “We Go Higher,” a film that will be released next year, explores the 9/11 youngsters’ lives after the tragedy with the hopes of helping surviving children of other terrorist attacks around the world such as the Las Vegas massacre.

“It was a really good experience being interviewed for the film,” Larsen said. “At first I was really nervous and didn’t want to share my story, but Delaney made me feel comfortable. I told my memories of that day and my hopes for the future. I shared how I took my experiences and grew from it and how it shaped me in a different way from most kids growing up.”

Scott Larsen was 35 and a FDNY firefighter assigned to Ladder 163 in Woodside, but he was working on rotation at Ladder 15 near the South Street Seaport. It was the second company to make it to the scene of the terror attacks that morning. Larsen raced into the south tower where he and 13 others assigned to the firehouse perished when it collapsed.

“My siblings and I would share memories of our father, but we never talked about what happened that day,” Larsen said. She opened up to Colaio last spring when the film crew arrived for a daylong interview at her home and the following day when they filmed at her school. She found the process cathartic.

“It was too personal before this. I just never shared my stories,” Larsen said. “It helped to share my feelings and while I would never say the interviews gave me closure, but it was a sense of relief and comfort to talk about and that’s what I want to convey to others. It helps to talk it out.”

The funeral for Scott Larsen was held at the Sacred Heart Church in Glendale in April 2002 where the turnout was so large that they put speakers outside so an overflow crowd could hear the service. Brenda’s mother, Carolann, cradled her little brother August throughout the mass.

“August was born on the 13th just two days after the attacks,” Larsen said. “He was actually supposed to be born on Sept. 11.”

Mayor Michael Bloomberg was among the mourners and spoke to August and Brenda, who was 8 years old at the time, her sister Marissa, and brother Scott during the funeral. He urged the Larsen children to “grow up, to laugh, play and have a good time.”

Looking back Larsen thinks they have done just that.

“We all wanted to keep going and be strong and make our Dad proud,” she said.

And she thinks her father would be proud of her in 'We Go Higher.'

“It’s supposed to come out in the spring of 2018,” Larsen said. “I’ve seen the trailer for it and it makes me excited to hear each kid’s own story. I’m a little nervous to hear what I sound like, but I really can’t wait to see the film.”

Reach reporter Bill Parry by e-mail at bparry@cnglocal.com or by phone at (718) 260–4538.

More from Around New York