LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (BP)–Twenty-three students and six adults from Arkansas Baptist High School in Little Rock were visiting the White House when American Airlines flight 77 crashed into the nearby Pentagon Sept. 11.
Hijacked from Washington’s Dulles Airport, the jet plane carried 64 passengers and crew, all of whom also perished in the crash, along with numerous Pentagon workers.
According to Patrick Salman, assistant principal at the Arkansas school, the group of junior-class students arrived at the White House East Wing just after 9:30 a.m. (EST) and was awaiting a tour, alongside many other tourists. Within a few minutes, a troop of security personnel, armed with automatic weapons and dressed in black, approached the group informing them of a bomb threat and instructing them to immediately “move away from the building.”
Unaware at the time of the dreadful terrorist assault occurring at the Pentagon, the somewhat bewildered tourists casually retreated. Salman said the security team shouted, “Run very quickly and get away from the White House.”
Heeding the stern warning, Salman said the students and others hastily bolted from the premises. As they headed to their tour bus, a billowing cloud of black smoke could be seen spewing forth from the nearby Pentagon that had been attacked.
Describing the exiting scene as “tense and anxious, yet calm,” Salman said many tourists, as well as students, were confused, upset and distraught. “At this point, we, of course, did not fully understand what was going on around us,” Salman said. “Our first priority was to get the students to safety.”
The Arkansas group soon learned from radio reports of the horrible events taking place in America. Alarmed by the news, many students became emotional and “a bit afraid,” Salman said. This anxiety became even more real as they witnessed firsthand the crash site at the Pentagon from bus windows.
Turning their thoughts to prayer, the students joined together to pray for the victims and for the United States. Some cried both tears of sadness and thanksgiving for their safety.
“I just couldn’t believe what was happening,” student Brook Bradford said of her experiences. “I was not worried too much about myself, but I began to feel so bad for those who had lost their lives and for the many kids who lost their parents.
“It is just unbelievable. I will never forget it,” she said.
In Little Rock, school officials contacted each student’s family to inform them the group was safe and would soon be returning to Arkansas. Anxious parents, however, were still glad to receive telephone calls from their children, according to several students.
“My mom was hysterical when I finally got through to her,” Bradford said. “She was glad to hear from me.”
The students, along with all of America, later learned that the White House had been a possible target of the hijacked planes. Consequently, they are counting their blessings.
“We know God was totally protecting us,” Bradford said. “We had people back home praying for us, and for weeks we had been praying for the trip, not knowing of course what would happen. I know God was working and had angels around us.”
Echoing Bradford, student Drew Tollett said he is convinced God’s hand was on the group. “It wasn’t our time. I know that God has a plan for each student and wants … to use that plan to touch people’s lives. He spared us for his service.”
Chaperone Mary Kay Parr, a school coach, said she is anxious to see how God will use this tragedy for his glory. “I can’t wait to see how God will work through all of us. His Word tells us that ‘He works all things for good,'” Parr said. “I hope he spurs a spiritual revival in our country.”
After a long and likely somber bus trip home, the students arrived back in Little Rock Wednesday night, Sept 12. They were greeted with hugs and embraces by a host of family members, friends and school officials.
Noting her longtime anticipation of her junior-class trip to Washington, Bradford said, “I had been so excited to go to D.C, but when we arrived home, I was so happy to be home … in the comfort of my family.”
School administrators held a counseling session/prayer meeting Sept. 14 on campus for the 23 students. Led by area youth ministers, Salman said the meeting allowed students to talk about their experiences and pray for each other, national leaders and the victims.
(BP) photo posted in the BP Photo Library at http://www.bpnews.net. Photo title: AFTER THE ATTACK.