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Boy who aided 9/11 victims reflects on fate of bin Laden

    Rochan Pinho, cancer survivor and culinary arts student. COURTESY PHOTO.

After the Navy SEALs got Osama bin Laden, one of my first thoughts was to wonder what Rochan Pinho thought about it.

Rochan was the 10-year-old from Pearl City Highlands Elementary School with inoperable cancer who received much attention after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks for his tireless efforts to raise money for victims by selling patriotic buttons he made himself.

He collected more than $10,000, appeared on the Rosie O’Donnell show and was honored by firemen in New York and locally by the mayor and governor.

My chicken-skin moment was when he quoted a line of mine when accepting an award from Gov. Linda Lingle: "We don’t get to choose how long we live; we can only control how well we live our lives."

I thought of Rochan again on Memorial Day when I passed the veterans cemetery with a sea of flags that reminded me of his buttons, but I hadn’t been in touch with the family for years and didn’t know how to make contact.

Then, one of those things happened that makes you believe in karma: I received an email from Michael Pinho with news about his son, and the news was good.

After his wife, Lori, died, the family was beset with problems in Hawaii, and Michael Pinho decided to move his kids to the Midwest for a fresh start.

All are doing well in their own ways, and Rochan is 20 now and more than halfway through a culinary arts degree at a local college.

"It is amazing that at the age of 7 he was diagnosed with inoperable cancer in both brain and spine, and here he is today living a normal life," Michael Pinho said. "For me there is not a day that goes by that I do not think about the ‘what if’ as he has had so much radiation and chemo."

Several memories remind me what a quality person Rochan is. After once making a $100 donation to his jar for the 9/11 victims, I knew the family was having a difficult time and tried to give Rochan another $100 for himself. He immediately put the money in the jar for the victims.

Another time, I asked him why he took on the burdens of others when he had so many troubles of his own. He answered, "If you do good, you get good back." He’s living proof of the truth in that.

"My grades are looking good so far," he reports. "I’m in my 5th quarter and I have three more quarters until I graduate with an Associates of Applied Science degree in food service/hospitality."

I asked about bin Laden’s death, and Rochan said, "I do think that it helped many people feel safer or at ease."

David Shapiro can be reached at or

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