St. Johns woman recalls moment President Bush learned the U.S. was under attack on 9/11

Maria Chrissovergis was covering President Bush in Sarasota as an education reporter on September 11, 2001.

Except for those not born or still too young to remember, every American remembers where they were on September 11, 2001.

“Have you ever cried over that day?” Action News Jax anchor Ben Becker asked Maria Chrissovergis.

“Every 9/11,” Chrissovergis replied.

Chrissovergis is now a St. Johns County mother of two, but in 2001 she was an education reporter for the CBS affiliate in Fort Myers, Florida.

On that fateful day, she was inside Booker Elementary in Sarasota where a special guest was promoting his No Child Left Behind initiative to help disadvantaged students.

The special guest was newly-elected President George W. Bush.

Chrissovergis was watching a live feed from another classroom when suddenly Bush’s Chief of Staff walked up and whispered in the President’s ear.

It’s a moment many Americans remember just as clearly as Chrissovergis.

”I vividly remember the look on his face,” Chrissovergis said. ”I remember telling my photographer something happened to his parents. You could tell something was wrong.”

Something was wrong. The worst terrorist attack in U.S. history was unfolding.

19 Al-Qaeda terrorists hijacked four airplanes.

Two planes headed for New York City’s World Trade Center Complex; twin 110-story skyscrapers located in Lower Manhattan.

At 8:46 a.m. the first Boeing 767—United Airlines Flight 11—flew into the north tower near the 80th floor. Then, 18 minutes later, a second Boeing 767—United Airlines Flight 175—sliced into the south tower near the 60th floor.

The south tower collapsed at 9:58 a.m., followed by the north tower at 10:28 a.m.

2,735 people were killed, including 343 New York City firefighters and 71 police officers.

U.S. Navy Photo/Journalist 1st Class Mark D. Faram.

The third plane headed for the Pentagon in Washington D.C. where it crashed into the west side of the Pentagon military headquarters at 9:45 a.m.

125 military personnel and civilians were killed in the Pentagon, along with all 64 people aboard the airliner.

Meanwhile, the fourth plane—United Flight 93—was hijacked 40 minutes after takeoff from Newark Liberty International Airport. The hijackers flew the plane into a Pennsylvania field in a violent nosedive after the passengers revolted.

All aboard were killed.

Officials examine the crater 11 September 2001 at the crash site of United Airlines Flight 93 in Shanksville, Pennsylvania. 

“One by one all of our pagers started to go off,” said Chrissovergis. “My news director sent me a text on my pager saying it appears America is under attack, you are with the President, keep us posted.”

Soon after the President addressed the nation from the school.

Chrissovergis says while journalists should never get too personally involved with any story they cover, this was different.

“Moments later had to deliver a live broadcast I was fighting back tears,” remembers Chrissovergis. “Seeing these kids behind him I thought how sad the innocence of these poor children changed and their parents weren’t there. I was 25 years old, now I’m a mom. I fear for the world we live in.”

Now a mother of two who runs her own public relations firm, she instills American pride in her children.

”The biggest takeaway I share with my kids is the American spirit and that we are a free country and there are people who want to take that away from us,” says Chrissovergis.

As for that fateful day at a Sarasota school 20-years ago, she never forgets the history lesson.

“I force myself to watch the coverage,” says Chrissovergis.

“When I see the ringing of the bells, every time they call the name of someone who died in World Trade Center, I’ll just sit on my couch and bawl. I just wish we could figure this all out we are all sharing one world together, it doesn’t have to be this difficult it doesn’t have to be this kind of hate.”

Tune in on Friday night at 7:30 p.m. on CBS47 and FOX30 for “9/11: Twenty Years Later.”

Samantha Mathers

Samantha Mathers, Action News Jax

Samantha Mathers is a digital reporter and content creator for Action News Jax.