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(8:55 a.m.) September 11, 2001: First Lady Informed of Crash at WTC While Leaving White House for Capitol Hill

Margaret Spellings.Margaret Spellings. [Source: Harvard University]Laura Bush, the president’s wife, learns of the first plane hitting the World Trade Center while she is leaving the White House, on her way to a Senate hearing on Capitol Hill, but thinks the crash was an accident. [Us Weekly, 10/15/2001; Bush, 2010, pp. 197-198] Bush is set to appear before the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions, to plead for more federal funding of early childhood education. [CNN, 9/12/2001; Andersen, 2002, pp. 2] She is scheduled to arrive at the Russell Senate Office Building, located just north of the Capitol building, at 9:15 a.m. and to appear at the hearing there at 10:00 a.m. [USA Today, 9/10/2001; Bush, 2010, pp. 197]
Secret Service Agent Tells First Lady of Crash - Members of the White House press corps who will be going to Capitol Hill with the first lady have been watching coverage of the crash in New York on television. However, when she is escorted out of the White House by Gary Walters, the chief usher, Bush is unaware of what has happened. But then, as she is getting into her limousine, Ron Sprinkle, the head of her Secret Service detail, leans over and whispers in her ear that he has just been informed that a plane has hit the WTC. [National Journal, 8/31/2002; Bush, 2010, pp. 197]
First Lady Thinks Crash Is an Accident - Bush speculates about what could have happened with Andi Ball, her chief of staff, and Margaret Spellings, the White House domestic policy adviser, who are with her at this time. [Kessler, 2006, pp. 135; Bush, 2010, pp. 197-198] Bush does not think the crash was due to terrorism. “Of course, at that time we thought it was just some weird freak accident,” she will later recall. [Us Weekly, 10/15/2001; Gerhart, 2004, pp. 162]
Motorcade Subsequently Heads for Capitol Hill - The exact time when Sprinkle informs Bush of the crash is unclear. According to Walters, it happens “at 8:55.” [National Journal, 8/31/2002] Us Weekly magazine will place the incident at “[j]ust before 9 a.m.” [Us Weekly, 10/15/2001] But Bush will write that she is told of the crash “a few minutes after 9:00 a.m.” [Bush, 2010, pp. 197] Bush’s limousine and motorcade will leave the White House at 9:07 a.m., several minutes after the second plane hits the WTC, according to Noelia Rodriguez, the first lady’s press secretary (see (9:07 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [National Journal, 8/31/2002] Bush will learn of the second crash, and realize this is a terrorist attack, shortly before arriving at the Russell Office Building (see (9:14 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [CNN, 9/11/2002; Gerhart, 2004, pp. 162; Bush, 2010, pp. 198]
First Lady's Testimony before Congress Expected to Be 'Big News' - Senator Edward Kennedy (D-MA), who chairs the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions, invited Bush to appear before his committee today. [USA Today, 9/10/2001; Gerhart, 2004, pp. 160] Bush is set to become only the fourth first lady to testify before Congress. [USA Today, 9/6/2001; Us Weekly, 10/15/2001] Rodriguez will recall that before receiving the news of the crash in New York, with Bush’s planned appearance at the hearing ahead, “We expected it to be a big news day for us.” Kennedy will say, “There was a lot of anticipation about [Bush’s] presence, a lot of the excitement.” [CNN, 9/11/2002] The hearing will be canceled as a result of the attacks in New York. [CNN, 9/12/2001]

Entity Tags: Andrea Ball, Gary Walters, Ron Sprinkle, Edward M. (“Ted”) Kennedy, Margaret Spellings, Noelia Rodriguez, Laura Bush

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

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