Born on Sept. 11, 2001
September 20, 2011
By Warren Kagarise
History is intertwined for Issaquah girl and 9/11 attacks
Larisa Tutkur and a tragedy share a moment in history — Sept. 11, 2001, was Larisa’s birthday.
The bright and outgoing girl learned about the connection after she turned 6, and her parents explained the catastrophe.
“When I first found out, we did talk about it,” she said. “Then, after a few years, we just looked at it as my birthday and nothing else. We didn’t want to talk about it because it’s a really, really sad day.”
Larisa is among the 13,238 babies born in the United States on Sept. 11, 2001, and the only such child in the almost 17,000-student Issaquah School District.
The fourth-grader at Sunset Elementary School turned 10 on a day many people spent reflecting on a tragedy from a decade ago.
Larisa’s parents, Maida and Omer Tutkur, resettled in Washington from war-torn Bosnia and Herzegovina months before the 9/11 attacks.
Maida Tutkur, then six months pregnant, landed in the United States on June 28, 2001, not long after her husband settled on the Eastside.
Confronting uncomfortable reminders
Physicians decided to induce labor early Sept. 10 — after more than a week passed since Tutkur’s Sept. 1 due date — at Overlake Hospital Medical Center in Bellevue. The difficult labor stretched into early the next day.
“They woke me up when it was time to push and when I started pushing, they said, ‘Oh, wait. She’s not in the right position. Her nose is coming first. We have to do a caesarean,’” Tutkur recalled.
Larisa arrived at about 3 a.m. — only hours before hijackers boarded airliners on the East Coast. Maida Tutkur collapsed into sleep, exhausted from the long labor and emergency C-section.
Later, as she emerged from a Percocet fog, hospital staffers asked if she had heard about the attacks.
“When I came back, they said, ‘Do you know what happened?’ I said, ‘I don’t care what the hell happened. Just leave me alone. I’m so tired,’” she recalled.
Unable to grasp the still-unfolding tragedy due to exhaustion and medication, Tutkur faded again.
In the hours after the attacks, as Tutkur returned to clarity, she noticed disturbing parallels between the conflict at home and the fury unleashed on the United States.
The clashes in the former Yugoslavia offered Tutkur a harsh introduction to hunger and violence.
“I’ve seen dead people on the street,” she said.
The smoldering ruins flashing across the TV screen in Tutkur’s hospital room came as a troubling reminder.
“When I saw that on TV, I was like, ‘Oh my God, we just went through a war,’” she said. “It was over, and I thought I came to a country that’s secure and safe to raise kids.”
The language barrier also limited the stream of information from grim-faced hospital staffers to Tutkur.
“I did not speak English at that time, so I didn’t know much about what was going on unless somebody translated for me,” she recalled. “It did seem like everybody was really sad. They had this face, really sad and scared, too, but I didn’t know what they were talking about.”
Marking a tragedy — and a birthday
The fear dissipated, but did not disappear, as 9/11 receded into history.
Daughter Lamiya, 2, and son Amar, 15 months, joined the family. Meanwhile, the Tutkurs resettled from Bellevue to Issaquah. Larisa started school at about the same time as the nation observed the attacks’ fifth anniversary.
“Life goes by so quickly here,” Maida Tutkur said. “I cannot believe she’s 10 years old now. It went by so fast.”
Larisa is “a little fish” — a keen swimmer — and enjoys playing soccer. The dedicated student and math whiz said she hopes to be a veterinarian or maybe a doctor someday.
Maida Tutkur calls her oldest child “my sweetheart, my smarty pants” for her compassion and intelligence.
“She always says, ‘Mom, it’s so sad that so many people died on the day when I was born,’” she said.
Larisa, a student in teacher Marianne Shattuck’s fourth-grade class, joined a discussion about the attacks and the ensuing decade at school. The teacher also read a book — “September 12th: We Knew Everything Would Be All Right” — created by students at a Missouri elementary school after the attacks.
“I started off by telling them that the day before was a very special day marking the 10-year anniversary of something that happened to our country,” Shattuck said. “A few students knew what I was talking about and were able to say that it was the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.”
On Sept. 11, as Americans gathered at ground zero and from coast to coast for 10th-anniversary ceremonies, Larisa and her family celebrated her birthday at a park — a low-key celebration on a day meant for reflection.
“I don’t think she understood before,” Maida Tutkur said. “Now, she understands fully what actually happened on that day.”
Warren Kagarise: 392-6434, ext. 234, or firstname.lastname@example.org. Comment at www.issaquahpress.com.