Camp for 9/11 kids marks tenth summer

Charlie Costello, center, with crew cut.
CBS News

MONTICELLO, N.Y. - When Charlie Costello first went to Camp Haze in August 2002, just before the first anniversary of the September 11th terrorist attacks that killed his father, he was the youngest camper, at seven-years-old.

"There's only one time of year I'll ever talk about what happened when I was younger - one time of year - and that's at this camp," Costello, now 16, told us during a visit this week to the camp in New York's Catskill Mountains.

Costello's father, Chuck, 46, who fixed elevators for Thyssen Kropp, happened to be in Lower Manhattan when the al Qaeda-hijacked planes crashed into the Twin Towers.

"When he saw what was going on, he ran in once, came out with a father and a daughter," Costello said. "He ran back in a second time, and he never came back out."

All 85 campers at "Camp Haze" share a similar history. Victoria Santorelli, 17, lost her grandmother, Anne Marie Riccoboni, 59, a billing supervisor at Ohrenstein & Brown.

"Our parents and uncles and family members all died due to an act of terrorism. There was no way to stop it," Santorelli said.

She attended the week-long, all expenses paid camp for the eighth time last week, and considers her fellow campers her backbone.

"Whether you're from Florida or New Jersey or Long Island, we all have such a close bond. They understand what you're going through all the time," Santorelli said. "Other people back home really don't understand."

Camp Haze is named for Scott Hazelcorn, a 29-year-old bond broker for Cantor Fitzgerald, the firm that was unlucky to occupy the 101-105th floors of the north tower, above where the first plane hit. Hazelcorn's parents say Scott had planned to quit finance at the end of 2001 and become a school teacher.

Scott Hazelcorn, second from left, in a family photo with brother Eric, and parents Janice and Scott. CBS/Janice Hazelcorn

"He wasn't really a Wall Street guy. That was just his job," said his father Chuck, who co-founded the camp with his wife, Janice. Their other son, Eric, helps them run it.

The camp has been the primary initiative of the Scott Hazelcorn Children's Foundation, which they launched just ten days after 9/11 at Scott's memorial service. It operates on the grounds of Camp Kennybrook, a sleep away camp that Scott attended when he was a boy. The owners donate their facilities.

"Scott had said that he would have loved to have had a camp where children strip themselves of everything materialistic and shared in each other's differences," Janice said. "When 9/11 happened, we said, what better way to honor him?"

Scott's spirit fills the camp, especially in how campers greet each other with "Haze Hugs."

"He never shook hands. If he met you, he would hug you," said Chuck.

"He was a pied piper. People just loved being around him, because he had such positive energy. He was probably the happiest person I knew," said Janice.

Campers like Tauren Alkins, 17, who lost his aunt, Jenine Gonzalez, 28, an executive assistant for Aon Insurance, consider the annual gathering a home away from home.

"People used to cry together, laugh together," Alkins said. "Now, not much of that goes on anymore, but we still know the deal."

Tim and Thea Trinidad are among the many campers who've literally grown up at Camp Haze. Now in college, the siblings are both counselors.

"We just focus on just trying to get to know people and just having fun," Tim said. "This is therapeutic for me."

He added, "I was really shy, and just coming to camp, it just opened me up a lot more."

"After 9/11, you kind of didn't want to open up your heart to more pain," Thea said. "It kind of just helped me open up to more people and let them in. I feel I like lost my dad but I gained a family here."

After so many weeks together at this summer refuge, the Camp Haze kids have strengthened bonds born of tragedy. They always have a friend to call when the anniversary comes around.

"It never gets better. They just make it easier to deal with," said Charlie Costello.

Earlier this year, his mother allowed him to get a tattoo on his left arm honoring his dad, with an image of the Twin Towers, an eagle, and the words "Never Forget."

"Whenever something good happens, I feel like he's right there to share the moment," said Charlie, tapping his bicep. "Whenever something bad happens I feel like he is right there to bear the sorrow with me."

The Hazelcorns don't know how long Camp Haze will continue. But they are certain of their commitment to community service in Scott's honor.

"To me, he lives on in the foundation and the things we try to make a difference in children's lives," said Janice. "Our mission is really to do things for children - children that are in need - and there is so much need, and the more you look into that, the more need you find."