Sarasota County played a pivotal role in 9/11 - WJBF-TV ABC 6 Augusta-Aiken

Sarasota County played a pivotal role in 9/11

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SARASOTA COUNTY, FL -

On the twelfth anniversary of the September 11th attacks, many of us have probably spent a moment reflecting on where we were that day.

And Sarasota county played a pivotal role in that moment in history.

Across Sarasota look up, and you can see flags at half staff, bestowing honor to those lost on this tragic anniversary.

But if you look back, this county was host to key moments on that horrific day.

While history unfolded on television, President Bush arrived at Emma E. Booker elementary in Sarasota. Colonel Steve Burns was there. He was a Sheriff's lieutenant providing security and he couldn't help but notice the busyness of the white house press corps.

Burns said, "As they were disembarking form the vans I could hear them chattering all on their cell phones, you could tell they were kind of excited, there were mentions a plane had hit the World Trade Center."

He said, "Myself and a Secret Service supervisor were just mining that it was obviously a private, small aircraft. Probably somebody had a medical malady crash into the building and that's a shame, but it wasn't a real big thing."

Once the truth came out and everything changed.

"It became pretty chaotic there for a little while."

After President Bush gave a speech and left, Burns was assigned to protect the Secretary of Education. Burns said the Secretary was included in the presidential line of succession and had secret service detail. So they went to a nearby airport and had to remain there for a while since everything was on lock down.

Burns said, "The [president's] itinerary was known at least for several days prior to his visit to Sarasota, so it was a real concern that maybe there was additional targets, even being the school or something."

But before that day, the terrorists had spent time in Sarasota County.

Mohammed Atta and Marwan Al-Shehhi were two of the small group of terrorists who hijacked planes on that fateful day. Atta and Al-Shehhi spent time in Venice in South Sarasota County.

There they learned to fly planes at Huffman Aviation.

Shortly after the attacks, Huffman Aviation owner Rudi Dekkers said, "I heard what happened and the first thing I questioned myself was, if I would've known, I would've killed them with my own bare hands."

He also said, "These two gentlemen's case. I can't call them gentlemen. In these two animals' cases, they apparently were pilots, good pilots because they conducted the training, did the training and passed the license."

And according to recently released FBI documents, a wealthy Middle Eastern family mysteriously fled the Venice area shortly before the attacks.

The FBI claims the family had no ties to the 9-11 terrorists, but the investigative website, browardbulldog.org believes otherwise, and has filed a federal lawsuit pushing for more information.

Burns said in the days following the attack, his office got numerous calls about the terrorists spending time in the area.

Colonel Burns said, "It just makes you realize to never say that can never happen here. Because that certainly we were part of American history."

A part of history that forever changed this country.

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