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‘A sense of disbelief’: Journalist was there when Bush learned of 9/11 attacks

Jackie Barron was TV reporter sent to cover then President Bush’s visit to Sarasota County elementary school

Jackie Barron gives her take on the day terrorists attacked America happened and details events from that fateful time.
Jackie Barron gives her take on the day terrorists attacked America happened and details events from that fateful time.

It was Sept. 11, 2001, and Jackie Barron was working as a reporter at a television station in Tampa. Her assignment that day: Cover a visit from then President George W. Bush about a new education initiative at a local school.

He was visiting Emma E. Booker Elementary School in nearby Sarasota County.

Barron and the rest of the news media were “staged” in the school’s media center so they could report on the presidential visit. There was what is referred to as a “pool video camera” in the room with President Bush. It provides a view to all the media there of everything that’s going on. It’s done that way to minimize the crowd and prevent a rush of reporters surrounding the president.

Things started routinely for Barron and her news crew that day.

“As presidential visits go, it was standard operating procedure. We took our spot and waited for him to come in,” Barron said. “But it wasn’t too long before things started to get a little tense.”

That was the last routine moment she remembers. There was a flurry of activity around President Bush and his chief of staff came and whispered in his ear. It was news that would change the world. It was the news that at that point only a select few knew.

A stunned President George W. Bush looks past Chief of Staff Andrew Card after Card told the President about the planes crashing into the World Trade Center in New York City, during Bush's visit to the Emma E. Booker Elementary School in Sarasota, Fla., Tuesday, Sept. 11, 2001. (AP Photo/Doug Mills) (2001 AP )

In the ‘Emma E. Booker Elementary School Media Center, where Barron waited, things changed. The demeanor of the Secret Service agent assigned to be with the media suddenly changed.

“This particular secret service agent was a young woman, nice, but very by the book,” said Barron. “All of a sudden her demeanor changed to almost one of panic. And then she was crying.”

“Finally, I asked if everything was OK,” Barron continued. “She told me about the plane that flew into the Pentagon. Her husband was working there at the time. To this day, I don’t know what happened to him and I pray that turned out OK for her.”

Barron did not really find out about the complete magnitude of what happened until she got a phone call from, of all people, her mother.

“My mom had come to visit,” said Barron. “She was back at my house and paged me. At the time, we did not have cellphones. We weren’t supposed to be using our phones, but I did not like to be cut off from the rest of the world so I had not silenced my phone and I called her back.”

“(Mom) told me the Today Show is reporting a plane had gone into the World Trade Center,” Barron recalled. “I thought it must be a small private plane. I said, ‘a small private plane, right Mom?’ She said, ‘no Jackie, it’s a full-sized plane.’”

While this conversation is going on, the television reporter is sitting literally yards away from President Bush. After the passage of two decades, she vividly remembers what went through her mind that Sept. 11.

‘What really went through my mind in the initial stages was, I started to think, I’m here with the president, what is the next target? I (thought) of all the hundreds of school children in classrooms around me, there was a very select group that was to meet with the president. There was one group waiting on the stage to meet him in the media center. I couldn’t help but think, do we get the kids out of here? Do we evacuate the building? And at that point, all of it seemed somewhat surreal,” Barron said.

“There was definitely a sense of disbelief. People were in complete shock,” Barron remembered quite clearly.

And on the 20th year since 9/11, the thing that resonates for Barron -- a very clear recollection of President Bush’s reaction.

“I’ll never forget the look on his face. To see our commander-in-chief, our president in shock. In anger. In trying to be mournful, just mad. It was palpable,” remembered Barron, as if it was just yesterday.

“The look on everyone’s face around him when he asked for a moment of silence, for everything that had just happened in the world around us,” Barron said, while stopping for a moment to reflect. “And how our lives had completely changed forever. And how the lives of my children to come would be different from my childhood.”

“I’ll never forget the president’s face,” said Barron, with a look of thoughtful reflection.

Covering the story didn’t end there for Barron. Twelve hours after covering the president on that fateful day, she headed to Venice on Florida’s Gulf Coast after learning the two pilots who flew into the World Trade Center had trained 20 minutes away and partied around the corner from where she lived.

It’s a story that she would follow “for a good part of her television career,” before moving on to other endeavors in the corporate world.

About the Author:

This Emmy Award-winning television, radio and newspaper journalist has anchored The Morning Show for 18 years.