Skip to main content

After 9/11, how we honored our son's memory

By Elizabeth Alderman and Stephen Alderman, Special to CNN
updated 6:03 PM EDT, Tue September 11, 2012
Patrick, a former child soldier, received treatment at a PCAF clinic and was able to care for his family.
Patrick, a former child soldier, received treatment at a PCAF clinic and was able to care for his family.
  • Elizabeth and Stephen Alderman: Our youngest son, Peter, was killed on 9/11
  • After his death, they knew they had to leave a mark that Peter existed
  • They set up the Peter C. Alderman Foundation to help people affected by terrorism
  • Elizabeth, Stephen Alderman: Peter would be proud of the work that bears his name

Editor's note: Elizabeth and Stephen Alderman are the founders of the Peter C. Alderman Foundation.

(CNN) -- Our youngest child, Peter, was murdered on September 11, 2001, while attending a conference at Windows on the World at the World Trade Center. He was 25 years old when he died.

When the towers fell, we were in France, on vacation to celebrate Steve's 60th birthday. Peter, our daughter, Jane, and our son Jeff and his wife, Tobey, had all been with us for a week before flying back to the U.S. on September 8.

On the day of the attacks, we were terribly upset after hearing the news. But at first, we were not worried about our kids. Jeff and Tobey lived in Tulsa. Jane lived in D.C. but her job was nowhere near the Pentagon. Peter worked in midtown Manhattan for Bloomberg LP. But since he traveled throughout the city for his job, we became concerned.

Elizabeth and Stephen Alderman
Elizabeth and Stephen Alderman
Peter Alderman
Peter Alderman

We desperately tried calling our kids but could not get a line out of France. It wasn't until late in the day that we learned from Jeff that "Pete was there." The next day, Michael Bloomberg, who became mayor two months later, called to tell us that Pete was dead. My world stopped, and it still is totally out of kilter.

News: Triple-amputee veteran gets 'smart' home on September 11

Not Peter! Pete was all laughter and sunshine and love. He wasn't uncomfortable kissing his mother or father in public, or hugging his sister for no reason at all. He and Jeff traveled to fun places and laughed and laughed. Not Peter -- he was too full of life.

Our mark on this Earth is our children. After his death, we knew we had to leave a mark that Peter existed and the world would be a better place because he lived.

In searching for a way to honor his life, we learned that 1 billion people, almost one sixth of humanity, have directly experienced torture, terrorism or mass violence. Victims are left with lifelong emotional wounds preventing them from leading productive lives. In sub-Saharan Africa, the incidence of traumatic depression and PTSD exceeds that of HIV/AIDS, malaria and TB combined.

9/11 1st responders get cancer coverage

Peter loved life; he was compassionate and caring. There was nothing we could do for Pete, but returning survivors to life in his name was the perfect memorial. In March 2003, we created the Peter C. Alderman Foundation.

People often ask: "Why are you dealing with traumatic depression and PTSD when there are so many greater problems in the world?"

Our response is simple: Billions of philanthropic dollars go into fighting HIV/AIDS, malaria and poverty. But if people don't care whether they live or die, they will not follow through with their medication regimens, walk that extra mile for potable water or take advantage of microfinance. If you can restore hope, a person is less likely to strap on dynamite and kill innocent people.

Opinion: 11 years after 9/11: Who are the terrorists?

Our foundation started by training indigenous health workers, but we quickly learned that training by itself was not sufficient. We needed to provide a framework in which professionals could work. To that end, our foundation runs eight trauma clinics in Cambodia, Uganda, Liberia and Kenya.

Establishing public-private partnerships with local governments, our foundation trains, supervises and pays its staff; the government provides clinic space, in-patient beds and psychotropic drugs. Our foundation's average annual cost per clinic is $30,000.

More than 30,000 children have been abducted in Uganda, and many of our patients are child soldiers, like Patrick. He has been treated in our Kitgum clinic for two years. Now he no longer has nightmares or flashbacks. He can sleep through the night and hold down a job. He no longer thinks of suicide. He has even named his new baby after his counselor at the clinic.

Our foundation sponsors an annual African training conference on traumatic depression.

Watch: The Alderman's talk to CNNMoney

At July's fifth annual conference in Tanzania, attended by 500 mental health professionals from 22 countries, an imam from Somalia rose to say the opening prayer. He only spoke Arabic. When translated, we learned that he had said a prayer for Peter. Tears streamed down my face as I realized we were truly on the way to leaving that mark for Peter.

The work has kept us functioning and given us a reason to get out of bed every day. Nothing can erase our pain, but our passion to leave a profound and indelible mark that Peter existed on this Earth has propelled us forward.

Peter would be very proud of the foundation that bears his name.

Follow us on Twitter @CNNOpinion

Join us on Facebook/CNNOpinion

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Elizabeth Alderman and Stephen Alderman.

Part of complete coverage on
Remembering 9/11
updated 4:12 PM EDT, Wed July 23, 2014
A lot happened in response to the 9/11 terror attacks. Here is a look at what has worked, what hasn't and what has to happen now.
updated 8:52 AM EDT, Thu September 11, 2014
When do the ordinary -- letters, gloves, wallets -- become extraordinary?
updated 1:23 PM EDT, Thu May 15, 2014
President Barack Obama marked the dedication of the September 11 Memorial Museum with families, survivors and rescuers at the site.
updated 10:10 AM EDT, Wed September 11, 2013
The new North Tower is finally high enough to partially restore the skyline I used to see when I stepped outside my home in Greenwich Village.
updated 10:43 AM EDT, Wed September 12, 2012
For years, Denise Scott and her three daughters thought they had certainty about their loved one's death on September 11, 2001.
updated 7:24 AM EDT, Wed September 11, 2013
Even by MIT standards, says Tom Leighton, Danny Lewin was special.
updated 7:32 AM EDT, Wed September 11, 2013
Some New Yorkers mark the anniversary of the September 11 attacks by going to a memorial service or observing a moment of silence.
updated 1:47 PM EDT, Mon September 8, 2014
Click through our gallery to see how people are remembering the 9/11 anniversary across the nation.
updated 11:32 AM EDT, Wed September 11, 2013
More than a decade after that dreadful day, 9/11 memories are still fresh for the mother who lost her son.
updated 11:00 AM EDT, Wed September 11, 2013
Reggie Hilaire was a rookie cop on September 11, 2001. He worked at ground zero for 11 days beside his colleagues, not wearing a mask.
updated 10:10 AM EDT, Wed September 11, 2013
Before September 11, 2001, the easy way to find true north was to use the towers as a reference point. After that day, the compass just spun, as the city struggled to figure out which way to go.
updated 6:03 PM EDT, Tue September 11, 2012
Two parents share how their youngest child, Peter, was murdered on September 11, 2001, while attending a conference at Windows on the World at the World Trade Center. He was 25 years old.
updated 9:12 AM EDT, Wed September 11, 2013
See the progress of buildings under construction at the site, as well as memorials.
updated 12:54 PM EDT, Mon September 8, 2014
Here is some background on the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001.
Mohammed Hamdani's name isn't among the first responders that are on the 9/11 memorial. But on that day, the 23-year-old certified EMT skipped his job at a university research lab to rushed to the World Trade Center.
updated 9:50 AM EDT, Tue September 11, 2012
In the few years immediately after the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, many travelers avoided flying on that day if they could help it.
updated 10:11 AM EDT, Mon October 29, 2012
Marine Cpl. Juan Dominguez lost three limbs in an explosion in Afghanistan.
Today's fifth-graders were not even born on that day. For them, September 11 is history -- and often, a topic in their history class. And as of last fall, 21 states specifically mentioned 9/11 in their social studies standards.
Although countless Muslims have condemned the acts of 9/11 in the United States and worldwide, American Muslims became objects of suspicion.
updated 10:53 PM EDT, Tue September 11, 2012
As memorials recall the victims of 9/11 across the country, our photo gallery will relfect the observed remembrances.