We’ve all known since that fateful Tuesday in 2001 that Sarasota had a connection to the events of the day we call 9/11. I’ve written previously about being held up by the Presidential motorcade as “W” made his way to Emma E. Booker Elementary school to read to the kids. Then there was the flight school in Venice where some of the “I don’t need to know how to land” hijackers trained.
Much later, we learned some bits and pieces about the Sarasota Saudis, andâ€”perhaps the most concerningÂ detailâ€”that the FBI was playing cat and mouse about what it did and didn’t know.
On Monday of this week, though, a new set of documents emergedâ€”documents that the FBI had previously failed to acknowledge even existedâ€”that reveal even more bizarre details about the 9/11 Sarasota connection and what appears to be an FBI coverup.
Thanks to some extremely diligent efforts on the part of the Broward Bulldog and their ongoing investigative and legal actions, the FBI released the documents which, although heavily redacted, reveal informationÂ uncovered as far back as 2002.
An article published by the Broward Bulldog and picked up by theÂ Miami Herald reveals the new details. They include a man dumping information into a dumpster behind a Bradenton storage facility, and a man who arrived in Sarasota, FL in November, 2001 harboring apparent intentions to purchase land and establish a Muslim compound in Florida that was (is?) feared to include carrying out or facilitating terrorist activities.
I’ve previously recounted my own memoirs of 9/11 in Sarasota, but as we remember the anniversary of this tragedy yet again, it seems that Sarasota’s connection to the events of that day gets stronger, if not more mysterious, every year.
Recently I was on a plane chatting with someone who happened to have moved to Sarasota in the years since 9/11. Not having been a resident of the area at the time, he was only vaguely aware of President Bush’s presence in our beautiful city that fateful morning. In fact, he’d recalled “W” being in Florida, and even on the Gulf Coast, but didn’t realize Sarasota was the location.
“Yep. He was in Sarasota. I saw him drive by that morning on his way to Emma E. Booker Elementary School, where he was famously reading to the children when someone whispered in his ear about the attacks,” I said.
As we flew over Florida, I went on to explain that several of the hijackers trained as would-beÂ pilots nearby in Veniceâ€”one of them famously not wanting to bother learning to land, just fly.
It reminded me just how much I’ve always felt that Sarasota was eerily connected to the 9/11 attacks… and how that even that day I wondered if our city might have been a target because of the well-publicized movements of the President.
But none of us who lived here back in 2001 had any idea just how strong that connection would turn out to be. We learned of the Venice connection pretty quickly, of course. But we still don’t know much about the Saudi family living in Sarasota at the time, and just how much they may or may not have had to do with the 9/11 hijackers. TheÂ Sarasota Herald-TribuneÂ is reportingÂ that the FBI continues its pattern of obfuscation and denial about the issue.
Since the FBI has unfortunately not been forthcoming about what it knows, it is only after significant public outcry and a lawsuitÂ that we, the people, stand a remote chance of ever learning more about the family who mysteriously vacated their Prestancia home just 2 weeks prior to the 9/11 attacks.
Perhaps we may never know just how deep the Sarasota 9/11 connection goes. For now, it’s up to a federal judge in Broward County named William L. Zloch. Let’s hope he rules in favor of the people.
It’s truly hard to fathom that 10 years have passed. We were changed by that day, and perhaps we still don’t comprehend fully how.
For me, the day serves as a bookend… the beginning of a season of work that continues to grow and develop today. I launched out full time in Epiphany Marketing (the business I still operate) on Monday, September 10th. Had Tuesday been uneventful, Monday might be a faded memory… perhaps I might not have even really marked the date in my mind.
But Tuesday was eventful. A sudden jolt that reminded us all that life is short. That things can change… instantly. That whatever you’d been doing suddenly may no longer have been important. Perhaps it had never been.
Since it came at the beginning of a new season for me, it underscored the fact that there is important work to be done. That, as Seth Godin pointed out today, “…we have an obligation to stand up, stand out and to do work that matters.”
It’s been said before… we’ll probably always remember exactly what we were doing that day.
For me, it was an early morning networking meeting at the now-demolished Sarasota Quay. I remember hopping on my motorcycle to leave the parking lot when a State Trooper pulled up and blocked the exit.
President Bush was passing by on his way from The Colony on Longboat Key up Tamiami Trail to head toward Booker Elementary School.Â It delayed my departure from the Quay for a while. I had completely forgotten he was in town, so I sat there on my motorcycle facing the road and watched as the entourage of black vehicles eventually went by.
Then, it was off to visit a client. I had to make a brief stop at the bank where, after making a deposit, I exited into an eerily calm morning.Â It was exactly 9:02am.Â I looked at my watch before getting back on my bike and I remember the distinct feeling: something’s wrong.
I hadn’t yet heard about what was happening in New York City, but for a Tuesday morning something really seemed oddly quiet. In the distance, a siren wailing added to the unusual sensation.
A few short minutes later, I arrived at my client’s office where there was absolute bedlam. Someone had heard the news and was desperately trying to get CNN.com or any of the major news websites to load up.
We watched in horror as we finally saw clips of the planes flying into the buildings.
The 9/11 Community Prayer Meeting
For me, the next steps were both immediately obvious and now a blur. Thanks to my friends Raj Doraisamy and Joe Brachle, as well as the entire team at Joe’s CSI Networks (then known as Computing Solutions), a full-scale effort was in place which by the end of the day yielded a community prayer meeting at Robarts Arena on Fruitville Road.
As many as 30-40 congregations in the Manatee and Sarasota County areas participated. Carolyn Mason, then mayor of Sarasota, was instrumental in getting us access to the Robarts facility at no charge. She announced the meeting at the city’s own vigil held downtown that afternoon.Â Jeff MacFarlane and the crew of The Joy FM, as well as many other media outlets, were instrumental in helping to invite the community to come out to pray.
From 5pm to 10pm, Robarts was open for people to come and go as they desired.Â Estimates at the time were that approximately 500 people had come and gone by the time the evening was over. My own lovely wife, Jill, sang for a good chunk of the evening.Â People like Cindy Wright and Carlos Ramirez helped provide music. Numerous pastors and other local ministers, including Dan Nawara from The Living Sanctuary and Richard Brantley from The Rock of Sarasota, came out to lead people in prayer.
That evening represented some of the best things about this community. A group of people in a wild time of uncertainty — we had no idea if we were in for other attacks or not — came together just hours after the first devastating tragedy of the day, and were simply there for one another. It was something for those who needed to reach out to other people… and to God.
It was an unforgettable day… for so many reasons. Thank you to those of you local citizens that helped bring some light into a very dark day.