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A mother is lost, and her mother steps in


The mailbox at Rebecca Lightbourn's modest Capitol Heights home is often full these days and has been for nearly a year. The Pentagon forwards things from all over the country: stuffed animals, a handmade quilt, personal letters, loads of paperwork from financial forms to updates on the case against the alleged 20th hijacker, Zacarias Moussaoui.

"At first, I didn't want to deal with it, but then you realize they're grieving like you are," she said. "It lets you know somebody cares you're having a hard time."

Lightbourn's daughter, 36-year-old Samantha Lightbourn-Allen, was a budget analyst at the Pentagon, one of those killed in the Sept. 11 attack there. Samantha's death left her two children - John, now 17, and Brittnie, now 13 - without a mother and her mother with an entirely new role in their lives. Rebecca Lightbourn, who is 58, had been their baby sitter. Now she would be raising them.

Her daughter's 15-year marriage had ended in divorce a year earlier, and, Lightbourn said, Samantha would have wanted her to take care of the kids. A custody battle with Samantha's former husband ended when Brittnie moved out this summer to live with her father. John, a high school senior, is staying with his grandparents.

"My whole life for the last year has been to take care of the children," she said. "I want to see him [John] off to college. Then I'll think about myself."

Lightbourn knew for sure Sept. 12 that her daughter was gone. She hadn't heard from Samantha since the plane hit. As she headed for the Pentagon the next day in search of answers, she missed her exit. That's when she drove by the building. The gaping hole she saw was right where her daughter had sat.

"I said, 'Look at it - I don't know how anyone could survive in there,'" she recalled.

She was right, though it was weeks before her daughter's body was identified - and another two before Samantha's remains would come home. "We couldn't even open her casket. It was sealed," Lightbourn said. "We don't know what was in it."

Until Sept. 11, Lightbourn saw her daughter every day. Samantha's life was looking up. Samantha had just bought a new car. Samantha felt better - she had been home from work with pneumonia for weeks and returned just days before Sept. 11. Samantha was enrolled at a community college.

"She was so full of life," her mother said. "You didn't see her go downhill and get sick. She just disappeared on us. She didn't come home."

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