SARASOTA, Fla. — “I was in the 5th grade. I was about 9 or 10 years old at the time,” said Andre Hobbs, Jr. ”This is me right here, standing behind the President right here.”
It’s a memory made so young but it’s as clear as ever.
“All I know is the president was standing right in front of me, telling us about how America was under attack that,” he said.
“Two airplanes have crashed into the World Trade Center,” President Bush said at a podium in front of cameras.
Hobbs would learn over time what that meant.
“Probably until I got to high school, or out of high school, that’s when I realized how important or how big of a day that was that day,” he said.
The morning of September 11, 2001, was an exciting day for kids at Emma E. Booker Elementary school — President Goerge W. Bush chose their school to visit.
“I remember waking up early that morning, putting on my good uniform with the school logo,” Hobbs recalled.
Lenard Rivers was inside the classroom when President Bush arrived.
“He came in, shook a couple of hands and we started reading off of our lesson,” Rivers said.
But not long after a whisper in the Presidents ear would change everything.
“He didn’t say anything but he looked up and gave us stare,” said Rivers. “Like, a blank stare.”
Bush continued to read before he thanked the students and moved into an empty classroom. He began to make phone calls as the Twin Towers burned on a tv behind him.
Then he moved into the library. Hobbs was positioned to the right of the President as he announced he had to leave the school early.
“Ladies and gentlemen, this is a difficult moment for America. I, unfortunately, will be going back to Washington after my remarks,” Bush said.
"So many emotions go through my body,” said Hobbs. “That day I remember being happy, sad, confused.”
The President boarded Air Force One later that morning. Hobbs and fellow students were escorted back to their classrooms.
“Like on the way there I remember seeing people crying and when we got back to the classroom we actually watched on the news. We were watching it live,” he said.
Hobbs said his mom picked him up early. Word of a fourth plane in the air had everyone worried.
“I just remember being full of fear at the time,” he said.
His mom would later talk to him about what happened, Rivers said his parents did too and he learned more while in class.
“They broke it down, like two days later, like Miss Daniels told us what a terrorist was because at that point we didn’t know at our age,” Rivers said.
20 years later Rivers is now a police officer and connects deeply with the first responders who rushed into danger to save people.
“Being in law enforcement I can understand what type of impact it had on firefighters or officers or everybody that went and tried to help and didn’t make it back,” he said.
Hobbs works with kids at the Boys and Girls Club across the street from Emma E. Booker. His son is now in the third grade there. Both men say they understand the gravity of that day and as they continue to keep the tragedy of 9/11 in their hearts they feel honored to have been with the President.
“My prayers go out to the family and friends of the victims,” Rivers said.
“Now it’s like a part of history forever,” said Hobbs.