School children recall Bush's agony
Another picture of 9/11 that most remember is that of then US President George W Bush sitting with a bemused look in a classroom after being told by his chief of staff of the attacks that besieged America that day.
The 16 children who shared modern America's darkest moment with President Bush are high school seniors now - all grown up to make better sense of the events that day.
They remember going over an eight-paragraph story so it would be perfect when they read it to the President on Sept. 11, 2001. They remember how Bush's face suddenly clouded as his chief of staff, Andrew Card, bent down and whispered to him that the US had been attacked. They remember how Bush pressed on with the reading as best he could before sharing the devastating news with the nation.
"It was like a blank stare. Like he knew something was going on but he didn't want to make it too bad for us to notice by looking different," said Lenard Rivers, now a 17-year-old football player at Sarasota High.
What the students can't say for sure is how that moment changed them. They were just second-graders. Their memories were only beginning.
Lazaro Dubrocq, now a 17-year-old senior and captain of the wrestling team at a high school, said it wouldn't be until middle school when he started seriously pondering his place in the chaotic events of Sept. 11.
"I was too young and naive to fully understand the gravity of the situation," said Dubrocq.
"As I began to age and mature, it helped me gain a new perspective of the world and it helped me mature faster as I began to understand that there are politics and wars and genocides that occur daily throughout the world. It helped me come to a realization that the world is not a perfect place."
Some other children paint a very sincere, child-like description of the President that day.
"One kid described his face as (like) he had to use the bathroom," Guerrero said. "That's how we saw it in second grade. He just looked like he got the worst news in the world."
Teacher Kay Daniels was sitting next to Bush and knew something was amiss when Card came out of the adjoining classroom and approached the president. Everything about the day was so choreographed, and that wasn't supposed to happen.
"I had 16 little ones sitting in front of me, the media in the back of the classroom, and I had to keep going," said Daniels, now a reading teacher at a Sarasota middle school. "Emotionally, (Bush) left us, but he came back. He did come back into the lesson, and he picked up the book and for a moment he stayed with us."
Bush dissected those moments recently in an interview with the National Geographic TV channel.
"At the back of the room, reporters were on their cell phones. They were getting the same message I got, which meant a lot of people would be watching my reaction to this crisis," he said. "So I made a decision not to jump up immediately and leave the classroom. I didn't want to rattle the kids. I wanted to project a sense of calm."
After the story, Bush quickly shook hands with the children and left each with some M&Ms in a box bearing the presidential seal. Then he disappeared into the adjoining classroom, which had been set up as a command center for the visit. Minutes later in the media center, he stepped up to the podium and told the country about the attacks.
"Ladies and gentlemen, this is a difficult moment for America," Bush began. Teachers and students standing closest to him could see tears well in his eyes.
Everyone remembers that moment; it is the very kind that etches itself over time and in history books. It said it all. The moment a mighty nation wept.
Image: White House Chief of Staff Andrew Card interrupts President George W. Bush's reading session with school kids in Sarasota, Florida to tell him about the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001. (Photo credit: AP)