ST. PAUL, Minn. – While searching for her birth parents two years ago, Mariah Mills found more than she bargained for: A hero of Sept. 11, 2001.
Mills' biological father, who had given Mills up for adoption when he and his then-girlfriend were in college, was Tom Burnett, a leader of a group that fought back on United Flight 93 before it crashed in Pennsylvania on Sept. 11, 2001.
Mills, 21, learned about her birth father in 2004 — after she turned 19, the legal age in Minnesota for requesting a birth certificate with names of birth parents — and subsequent DNA tests confirmed that Burnett was her father.
"Before I was even born, my birth dad made a brave decision — to give me a life," Mills told the St. Paul Pioneer Press in Sunday's editions. "It was a selfless act, just like his actions on Flight 93. And, as awful as it was that he died, and I never got to know him, there is good that came out of this."
Today, Mills has developed a relationship with Burnett's widow, Deena, her three daughters, husband and stepson, and other members of Burnett's family. She also celebrated her birthday with her birth mother, who lives in St. Paul with her husband and two children and asked not to be identified.
Mills transferred to the University of Minnesota and is entering her senior year. She will spend her first semester studying abroad. Her dream job, she said, would be writing about baseball and covering the Minnesota Twins.
Mills and her adoptive parents visited Jefferson High School in Bloomington during the spring of 2004 after Mariah found out about her birth parents. Mariah wanted to look up Tom Burnett in his senior yearbook. She found his photo and one of her birth mother, too.
"It was weird to finally look like somebody," Mills said. "I have her eyes, but mostly I look like a Burnett."