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When Rosanne Cacciarelli Wise, the third-grade teacher, first sees Mike, she too bursts into tears and does a small swoon. "Before Sept. 11, a hero to these children was Superman on TV," she tells him. "After everything awful that happened, they need some good to come out of it, and you've been that for them the last few months. They need a hero they can see and touch."
Her third-graders have taped Mike's photograph to the chalkboard. One girl gasps when he walks in, several blink to make sure he's actually real. They all want his autograph in their notebooks and on stray math work sheets. "Will you sign my baseball?" asks one boy. Then the students take turns standing next to Mike and reading aloud Christmas cards they have made for him to take back to the firehouse.
The last student to come to the front lost a relative in the towers. He asks Mike to read his card, a Christmas tree rendered in crayon on blue construction paper. "I like you because you saved so many people in the Twin Towers," says Mike, tripping over the little boy's handwriting. "Thank you for trying to save everybody's life. You are very brave. Too bad you didn't save more people. I wish you could have saved Kris."
Mike hugs the boy and then turns away from the photographers. He is weeping, but this time he won't look straight into the camera.