School Kids Looked Bush in the Eye on 9/11


Sept. 10, 2006— -- On Sept. 11, 2001, when then-fifth-grader Mike Andrews heard President Bush was coming to his school, Emma Booker Elementary School in Sarasota, Fla., he could hardly believe it.

"I just thought it was unreal," said Andrews, now a 15-year-old student at Booker High School. "All of us, we just looked at each other. We were like, 'Are you serious? Like he's actually coming here just for us?' Like, of all the places in the nation he could have went to and he came here. Like, all the way just to Sarasota."

Thirteen-year-old Booker Middle School student Tyler Radkey was in second grade at the time, and didn't really think the president would come. When he saw Bush, he felt like he was going to faint.

"I thought it was going to be a lie, and they were just trying to get us excited," Radkey said.

The president visited the students' classroom to promote his education bill. But then, at 9:07 a.m., White House Chief of Staff Andrew Card interrupted the class.

"I just remember one of his staff members walk up to him, and he turns back and looks at us, and his face starts to turn red," Radkey said. "So I'm thinking to myself that he has to go to the bathroom."

Another student in that classroom, 12-year-old Natalia Jones, who's now a seventh grader at Booker Middle School had a different take.

"I thought he was mad at us or something because his face was red and he was staring in one spot," Jones said.

In fact, with that quick whisper, the world was changed forever. The president had just been told a second plane had crashed into the World Trade Center. America was under attack.

Bush finished the class before making a brief stop in a nearby staff room to speak with his national security advisor.

Andrews clearly remembers when he first realized that something awful had happened that morning.

"When he walked on stage, he had a look of concern and a look of worry, like we didn't know exactly what was going on but we could tell something was wrong," he said. "You could kind of feel it in the air a little bit."

For Byron Mitchell, a 14-year-old tenth grader at Booker High School, the realization came seconds later.

"When he started talking, he was talking like it sounded like he was getting ready to cry or something," Mitchell said. "His voice was cracking. I thought to myself something's, everything was wrong."

Andrews also remembered the other students, and even teachers, getting equally worried.

"For me being in fifth grade, I didn't know what was going on; I was confused at the time," he said. "I was looking around, me and my friends were looking around at each other like, 'What happened?' And all of the adults were sad and worried. And some of them were beginning to cry and what not. And we were all sitting here like, 'What's going on? What's happening?' We didn't find out really until we actually saw it on TV later."

At the time, Andrews didn't even know what the World Trade Center was. The news was a lot to process for a 10- or 11-year-old child, Andrews said. For him, looking back is a surreal experience.

"Just thinking about it, I was just shocked when I saw the actual footage of what was going on. When I saw it on TV, I couldn't believe my eyes," he said. "My whole class just sat there in awe because we actually figured out what was happening and how big this really was for everybody."

Andrews felt safer that morning than he does now.

"I had a bit of a comfort level, you could say, and that morning kind of gave me the indication and led me to believe that you could never really feel safe -- like anything could happen at any given moment or time," Andrews said.

Five years later, Mitchell doesn't feel safer either.

"They might feel the same way we feel about fighting the war and they might retaliate, and I think about it every day," he said. "I don't think that I should have to be scared just walking around. I shouldn't have to be scared of what's going to happen to me."

Sometimes, Mitchell said, that fear gets the best of him.

"When something happens in the news, I think about it," he said. "But most of the time, I'm not afraid."

Andrews has a few questions for the president.

"What is he really doing to prevent war from happening, and what's he really doing to ensure our safety here?" he asked.

Jones has questions, as well.

"I would ask him, 'Are we ever going to be safe? Can we ever walk around and say, 'I'm safe, I'm safe,' without really having to double check that?" she asked.

Jones also has ideas for reaching out to the people she thinks might want to hurt America.

"I would get everybody together, and I would ask them why are we fighting and should we be fighting and what is the way we can prevent this?" she said.

Mitchell feels sympathy for those that died in the towers that day.

"I feel sorry for the people that were in the buildings, and I really wish that it wouldn't have happened," he said. "That whole day, it would have been remembered in a totally different way. And instead of me having to look back on Sept. 11 as a day that was bad, I can go back to it as a good memory."

Andrews believed he witnessed an important moment in history.

"That'll be a day or something I could tell people for ages and everything, because that is a big event," he said. "Even though it was such a bad time, still most people could not even say that they came close to meeting him and I was standing right behind him."

Mitchell, for one, wonders how his fellow students felt that day.

"When I see the people, other people that I stood on the stage with, I'm thinking to myself: I wonder if they feel like I do," he said. "Because that might have been a big day for them too, as well, as it is for me."

"That was the biggest day of my life," Mitchell continued, "and I think that's going to be the biggest day of my life."

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