By VICKIE CHACHERE, Associated Press
© St. Petersburg Times, published September 11, 2001
SARASOTA -- On a day meant for celebrating achievement, President George Bush instead found himself and a school full of children trying to grasp one of the nation's worst tragedies.
The first sign something was wrong Tuesday came just before the president stepped into a second grade class at Emma E. Booker Elementary School.
Minutes later, he politely excused himself and set to the business of managing a national crisis.
"This is a difficult moment for America," Bush told the children who had waited nearly two hours to see him.
Florida Lt. Gov. Frank Brogan said he was standing next to the president when the first word of the attack came. Until then, Brogan said it had been a routine presidential visit.
Brogan said that all he knew at first was there was trouble in New York and clearly it was bad.
He said the president wanted to stick to his schedule of promoting his reading initiative and after a few moments of conferring with his chief of staff spoke briefly to a classroom of second-graders who had prepared to read him a story about a goat.
Bush then went on to the school's library where scores of children, their parents and local officials had been waiting despite the delay.
Their noisy anticipation had turned solemn as word of the attack had spread from reporters gathered in the back of the room.
"Reality has an ugly way of setting in," Brogan said. "It was so obviously a most serious situation, one that all these children will remember where they were on this particular day."
Gov. Jeb Bush was in Tallahassee at a Cabinet meeting.
Brogan found himself stranded in Sarasota when all flights were canceled.
"I don't think a lot of them are really aware," said Kassine Henry, who was at the school to see her 10-year-old son Ricky meet the president. "I'll break it down later to him as a parent."
"Everyone knew he (Bush) was going to be spending the day here at a school. Of all things for this to happen. It's so sad."
Victor Johnson, 10, was supposed to meet the president, too. He was picked by his teacher for the honor because of his good behavior.
"I'm a little sad," the fifth grader said. "They told us about the plane crash."
Principal Gwendolyn Tose-Rigell said some teachers will try to explain what they can about the attack, using it as a lesson on the difference between good deeds and bad.