Florida Students Witnessed the Moment Bush Learned of 9/11 Terror Attacks
Former second graders recall when the president came to read to their classroom.
Sept. 8, 2011— -- Sept. 11, 2001 started out as a morning of innocence and excitement for the boys and girls of Sandra Kay Daniel's second grade class at the Emma E. Booker Elementary School in Sarasota, Fla.
"There was so much buzz going around," Daniels said.
"Everyone had their hair done and new bows and everything," recalled Natalia Jones-Pinkney, one of Daniels' former students.
The president of the United States, George W. Bush, was coming to visit.
"The kids had worked so hard," Daniels said. "He was coming to congratulate them for the success and achievements they had made in their reading."
"Everything was so relaxed," according to Ann Compton, the ABC News White House correspondent traveling with the president that day. "This was not a big pressure event. The kids were kind of bewildered by it all, the fuss around them. But they were sitting in their chairs, looking forward and were kind of giggling and glad to see the president."
The day's lesson focused around the story, "The Pet Goat." But while the teacher took her students through reading drills, few in the room knew what the president knew -- that a plane had apparently crashed in New York.
"I had been notified that a plane had hit the World Trade Center," President Bush told National Geographic. "My reaction was, man, either the weather was bad or something extraordinary happened to the pilot."
While the kids were picking up their books to begin reading, "The Pet Goat," Andrew Card, the president's chief of staff, entered the room, walked to the president, and whispered in his ear.
"I made the decision I would pass on two facts, make one editorial comment and do nothing to invite a comment," Card later told ABC News.
"The minute that I saw Andy Card walk into that classroom, lean over and whisper to the president, I knew something was direly wrong," Compton said. "Nobody interrupts the president. Not even in front of a classroom of second graders."
The students, now seniors in high school but just 7 years old at the time, knew then that something had happened. They could see it in the president's face.
"He looked disconcerted, anxious," recalled Lazaro Dubrocq, another former student. "He was looking at the cameras, the walls."
"I remember him being all happy and joyful," said Mariah Williams. "And then his expression changing to very serious. And concerned."
Daniels, the teacher, was also aware of a change in the room. "He left the room. Mentally he was gone."
Just what had Card whispered in the president's ear?
"A second plane hit the second tower. America is under attack."
For approximately seven minutes the president stayed in the classroom while the students proudly read "The Pet Goat" to him. He was later criticized for not leaving immediately, but to the young people in that classroom, he made the right decision.
"I think if he would have panicked that was the tone he was setting for the whole country," said Chantal Guerrero. "If he wanted the country to stay calm, he needed to show that he was calm."
After the president left the room to be briefed and address the nation, Daniels was informed by a member of the Secret Service of the attacks on the World Trade Center. Then she had to explain it to her young students.
"I told them something terrible had happened and President Bush needs to go," she said. "Remember they were in second grade. They were only 7 years old so I wasn't going to give them every piece of information."
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