WESTLAKE, Ohio — Twenty years ago, a Westlake family lost a part of them.
Their daughter, 25-year-old Christina Ryook, was in the North Tower of the World Trade Center when the first plane hit in the 9/11 attacks. An administrative assistant at Cantor Fitzgerald, she was on the 104th floor -- six floors above the impact. No one on the floor survived.
One year after the attacks, Christina's family got a knock on their door. Police handed them a red bag that contained part of her femur bone.
"It was the same size as she was born...but still I really thank them for finding part of her body," said Christina's father, Dae Jin Ryook.
Today, Christina's family wonders what she’d be like, and says that they are making sure this community never forgets her.
The Ryook family feels closest to Christina at Westlake's Evergreen Cemetery. They feel at peace sitting on a bench that's dedicated to her. It's a bit of closure, as they often visit her gravesite. But the pain still cuts deep.
Christina had big dreams. Born in Korea, her family eventually moved to Northeast Ohio – an only child, but her friends became her brothers and sisters.
Her parents were her role models, her everything. In fact, her mom was visiting New York City on September 10, 2001 – Kyung Woo was with her daughter just hours before she died.
"I cannot believe that because I just met her last night in New York. Still…still… I can’t believe that…It’s really hard to …she was brave," said Kyung Woo.
As they watched the news that fateful morning, they called their daughter – over and over, they say it felt like a thousand times. But with no response, they took off and drove to New York City in the hopes that their daughter was one of the thousands in the hospitals.
"I hope my daughter was one of them, it doesn’t matter how badly hurt she was, still alive is more important," said Dae Jin Ryook.
Her name was nowhere to be found. Her face, her smile, forever engrained in the hearts of her parents. She would have been 45 this year, perhaps with a family and kids of her own -- like Christina's best friend, Michelle Han, who visited her in New York City one month before the attacks.
"This particular time she said, 'if anything ever happens to me, you’ll take care of my parents right?' And I said, 'yeah, but you are going to be here so of course, I would.' I didn’t even think anything of it," said Michelle.
One month later, she was forced to keep that promise. After Christina's death, she took a one-year break from law school to help the Ryooks navigate the journey that followed after their daughter's passing.
"There’s always something that reminds me of her, like I open up my watch and it's 9:11 and it makes me think of her or you know, if I see the color lavender, or I think of some certain Korean food she really loved and every time I eat it, it reminds me of her."
Something else that reminds Michelle of Christina is Westlake High School, where the two grew up. It's a place Christina's cousin Evelyn is now following in her footsteps.
"She was in the marching band, I'm in the marching band. And I've had a couple of teachers who have had her," said Evelyn.
Evelyn is proud of the legacy her cousin leave behind at the school, starting with Christina's Corner in the library and the Christina Sunga Ryook Memorial Scholarship, which benefits Westlake High School students who plan to attend the University of Michigan, Christina's alma mater.
So as the Ryook family looks back at the last 20 years, they remember a woman, a daughter, and a friend, whose life was cut short -- but that still continues to impact so many. They do their best to live a happy life.
"That is not only for us, that is for Christina. If we are not happy, she is not happy in heaven," says Dae Jin.
The family always gets together with family and friends on September 11 to remember Christina. This year, due to COVID-19, they are meeting at the cemetery with a small group of family and friends.
EDITOR'S NOTE: The video in the player below is from a previous, unrelated story.