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San Diego mother dedicates life to honoring her daughter and other 9/11 victims

Debby Borza was instrumental in making the Flight 93 National Memorial a reality. Visitors there can learn about the passengers including Debby's daughter Deora.

SAN DIEGO — Deora Bodley wasn't scheduled to be on United Flight 93 on 9/11, but the La Jolla Country Day grad arrived at the airport early and got on as a standby passenger. Over the past 20 years, Deora's mom has worked tirelessly to make sure her daughter, and the other heroes on that plane, are never forgotten.

“Deora was just a lively gal,” Debby Borza said with a smile. “Young girl. Smart. Keep her busy and she was happy!” 

Deora was just 20 years old, the youngest passenger on flight 93. 

“I can remember her death, September 11th, right now as if it were just yesterday. It's that vivid for me," her mother said.

Debby said her daughter was heading back to college after visiting a friend. It was that friend who called her in tears. 

“She knew Deora was on that plane," said Debby. "I didn't know. I thought she was on the next flight out - her scheduled flight.”

Dazed, Debby left her La Jolla office and went to the church across the street. As she was down on her knees praying for answers, her cell phone rang. 

“'Is this Debby Borza?' 'Yes, it is.' 'Hello, my name is Sharon DeWitt. I'm with United and I'm sorry to inform you...' and that's all I heard. I was just screaming and crying in the church," said Debby.

Flight 93 had been hijacked by terrorists. After being taken hostage, some of the passengers were able to make cell phone calls. They discovered three other planes had been hijacked that morning and flown into the World Trade Center towers and the Pentagon. 

“I think they figured out it wasn't going to be that kind of plane where it's going to land and they're going to ask for some kind of demand,” Debby said. “They knew it wasn't that.”

Many believe the hijackers intended to fly the plane into the U.S. Capitol, which was only about 20 minutes away. But thanks to the heroic efforts of the passengers on board, that plan failed. The passengers fought back and as they tried to regain control of the aircraft, the terrorists - realizing their original plan had been foiled - made the decision to crash the plane. 

“I had the opportunity to listen to the cockpit recorder,” Debby said. “I heard the struggle. One of the passengers had his hands on the wheel of that plane. They just ran out of room in the sky and they crashed doing over 500 miles an hour.”

The plane went down in a field near Shanksville, Pennsylvania. The impact killed everyone on board, but 20 years later their memories live on - in large part - thanks to Debby who has devoted her life since that horrific day to honoring Flight 93's 40 passengers and crew members. 

“They fought and I think that's what makes a lot of the family members very proud of their loved one on that plane," she said. "They just took it upon themselves and that's heroic.”

Debby was instrumental in making the Flight 93 National Memorial a reality. It sits on the field where the plane went down and offers visitors the opportunity to learn about the passengers on board.

And every year on September 11th, their names are read aloud during an emotional and inspiring ceremony. For Debby, this is what's always been important - refusing to let anger and hatred toward the hijackers rule her life - instead focusing on the heroes that day and making Deora proud.

And while she accepts that her oldest daughter is gone, that will never make the pain of losing her any easier to live with. 

“This business of children dying before parents... when I stand in front of the big guy, we'll have a talk about that," Debby said. 

WATCH RELATED: Interview with Debby Borza mother of Deora Bodley, San Diego native killed in 9/11 - Sept. 18, 2001