Witness to history

Friday, September 9, 2011 - 12:12pm

When two planes slammed into the World Trade Center on September 11th, 2001 President George W. Bush was in a Sarasota, Florida elementary school classroom.

The students who were in that classroom were too young to understand just how historic that moment was, but in the years that followed it began to dawn on them.

As soon as students arrived at Emma E. Booker Elementary School that morning, even the first graders sensed something was different.

"I remember getting there and the feeling that you have when you see so many people and your knowing that you are going right in the middle of that," says Chantal Guerrero.

"I remembering seeing all these agents, I mean I could actually see some of them in the trees, so I thought that was pretty neat," says La'Damian Smith.

Smith knew something was up, but the real shock came when he walked into homeroom.

"She said what are you doing here you are supposed to be in Mrs Daniels room, and I'm like for what, and she said your gonna read to the President and I'm like the President, what? Of all people?" he recalls.

Guerrero knew this was something big, but had no idea how defining this moment would become in American history.

"Once he came he kind of loosened up the mood a little bit and started talking about himself and his family and pets and stuff," Mariah Williams remembers.

At such a young age these students don't recall everything from that day, they remember seeing the president's face change when White House Chief of Staff Andrew Card informed him that America was under attack.

Williams and the other children observed a change, but were too young to understand the tense moments that followed.

"His face kind of turned red a little bit and he looked really serious and worried," she says.

"One of the kids in the classroom thought he had to go to the bathroom, I guess to a 7 year old that's what it looked like," Guerrero adds.

President Bush allowed the children to finish reading before excusing himself to address the nation.

Now ten years later, the teenagers are just starting to tap their life potential.

La'Damian is studying to become a chef at Sarasota County Technical Institute.

While he can't say the experience changed him as a person, he does know it makes him somewhat unique.

"You know i'm a part of history and something that never happened in this country before, so I mean it has dawned on me lately," he says.

Mariah is hoping to become a veterinarian and Chantal helps younger kids learn to dance at Stage Door Dance Studios.

She and her classmates agree that the experience matured their small group in a way other children will never understand.

The most profound thing that she will carry with her, is just the memory itself.

Most first graders will rely on their parents to tell them where they were the day America came under attack, but her story is her own.

"For me and my fellow classmates that were in that room with me i think all of us can say that we do remember and it's something that we will hold with us forever and we'll never be able to forget it," she says.

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