The Middletown Press (Middletown, CT)

M ISSING a father SHE NEVER MET

Born two months after her father died in 9/11 attacks, this CT native carries on her father’s legacy

- By Currie Engel

In many ways, Robyn Higley’s life has been shaped by the death of a man she never knew and a day she never experience­d.

The 19-year-old never met her father, Robert D. Higley II, who was killed during the 9/11 World Trade Center attacks just seven weeks before she was born, but she carries him with her. He’s right there in her name, in her love of writing and her impulsive streak.

Rob, an Aon insurance executive, was 29 when he was killed on Sept. 11, 2001. He worked on the 92nd floor of the south tower and was able to make a call to his wife before the second plane hit.

“Everything’s fine,” he told her before ushering several of the company’s newest trainees into the last elevator to the lobby. Rob left behind his growing family in New Fairfield: 4 1/2-year-old Amanda, and his wife, Vycki, who was eight months pregnant with their second daughter.

That daughter would be named Robyn in his honor.

“It just kind of came to me,” Vycki Higley said. “Her middle name was always going to be Elizabeth because my sister’s name was Elizabeth.”

The tragedy’s reverberat­ions have been both obvious and abstract in Robyn’s life. She said it’s part of the reason she wants to be a guidance counselor. She wants to help kids who are struggling in school.

Growing up, everyone at school knew of Robyn’s deep connection to 9/11. Teachers would ask her if she wanted to leave the class during war movies. Her mother, Vycki Higley, kept them home from school on the anniversar­y every year until Robyn was about 10.

“She was hyper protective,” Robyn said. “Every teacher had to know our situation. In high school, I wasn’t allowed to watch certain movies because they thought they would trigger me. A lot of people walked around my feelings.”

In history class, if they were given an assignment to present on an important event, Robyn would always pick 9/11 because she didn’t trust her classmates to take it seriously. Some of the boys were immature, she said. She didn’t trust them to do it justice. “They all knew I’d pick up the 11th, because I don’t want any of [them] talking about it,” Robyn said.

And then there were the reporters. Robyn has been interviewe­d over and over in the past two decades about the father she never met: a feature in People, articles in

ABC and NBC and every local paper, a spotlight on “The View,” a documentar­y.

The family has been followed by national outlets since before Robyn’s birth.

“Robyn was born on ABC,” Vycki Higley said.

Robyn didn’t get to choose whether she wanted to be a symbol of the national pain of the terror attacks, yet camera crews and microphone­s have asked her to share her story when the anniversar­y rolls around each year. She is one of “America’s children,” one of the more than 3,000 children who lost a parent that dark September day.

Vycki wonders about the impact on her middle daughter, who wasn’t alive at the time of the tragedy. Specifical­ly, Vycki said she thinks the fact that she was “telling the story for so long” may have been hard for the young girl, who didn't really get to develop and voice her own narrative around the events for a long time.

But in recent years, Robyn has been telling her own story, although it remains difficult to give voice to the collective pain of those affected by 9/11 across America.

Robyn remembers being about 8 or 9 years old and a camera crew unexpected­ly rolling up her driveway. She was about to go bowling with friends, clad in her favorite Frankie Jonas T-shirt. Instead, she had to go back inside, change into a dress and talk to producers about a father she never knew. She remembers crying during the interview, saying she talked to her dad every night.

“I never did that,” she said, reflecting back on the interview. “I gave [the interviewe­r] the answer that he wanted to hear.”

This year is a big anniversar­y, but Robyn is trying to keep a low profile. “Some people forget that I don’t owe them a story,” Robyn said. “I’ve learned to say no.”

Now at college, most of her new friends still don’t know that she is a child of 9/11, one of “America’s Children.” It’s the first time in her life that she hasn’t told people, that her classmates don’t know her history.

“In high school, I was the 9/11 girl and people I barely knew would come up to me and be like, ‘hey are you OK?’ and I hated that.”

The legacy of a father

Over the years, she’s learned a lot about her dad from friends and family. She has come to realize that she inherited more than just a name from him.

“Oh my god, we are the same

person,” Robyn said.

They have the same impulsive streak, she said. They also share a love of writing— Robyn in birthday letters to loved ones and a book she started in third grade, Rob in stories quietly typed on commuter trains. “He would commute on the train from Connecticu­t to New York every morning and have his laptop, and write these stories,” Robyn said. Those stories were lost with his laptop on 9/11, but he had shared some of them with Vycki and Robyn’s grandmothe­r.

Robyn knows about her father through stories she’s heard from “the boys,” Robert’s best friends growing up. Those college friends recently shared stories about their shenanigan­s. “I absolutely love these guys,” Robyn said of her dad’s best childhood friends, whom she refers to as her “uncles.”

Robyn has had a father-figure since age 2 — Rick Pratt, who married her mother in 2003. He was there to take her to fatherdaug­hter dances and fill the gap Rob left. But for Robyn’s entire life, she’s known about her brave dad who died in 9/11.

The family plans to go to travel to New York City for the 20th anniversar­y of the attacks. It will be Robyn’s first time visiting on the anniversar­y. The family plans to go with another Connecticu­t family affected by the terrorist attacks.

“I know my mom’s a little nervous because we’ve never done it before,” she said. “We’ve always avoided the big crowds and everything.”

But she knows Rob is with her, every step of the way.

“I know he knows,” Robyn said. “He’s been watching me for 20 years.”

 ?? Hearst Connecticu­t Media file photo ?? File Photo/ Autumn Pinette Drisc / File Photo
Robyn, at age 4, looks up at Danbury’s 9/11 memorial in 2005.
Hearst Connecticu­t Media file photo File Photo/ Autumn Pinette Drisc / File Photo Robyn, at age 4, looks up at Danbury’s 9/11 memorial in 2005.
 ?? Contribute­d photo ?? Victoria Higley-Pratt, left, holds daughter Robyn Higley as older daughter Amanda Higley looks at the program during a 9/11 memorial ceremony in Danbury on Sept. 11, 2012. Higley-Pratt lost her husband, Robert, in the terrorist attacks in 2001, two months before Robyn was born.
Contribute­d photo Victoria Higley-Pratt, left, holds daughter Robyn Higley as older daughter Amanda Higley looks at the program during a 9/11 memorial ceremony in Danbury on Sept. 11, 2012. Higley-Pratt lost her husband, Robert, in the terrorist attacks in 2001, two months before Robyn was born.

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