- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 8, 2001

First lady Laura Bush paid tribute yesterday to three D.C. sixth-graders and three teachers who died when their hijacked plane crashed into the Pentagon.
"They left us too soon, but we will not forget them," she said. "Today, we are thinking of them and celebrating their lives."
A special memorial service yesterday honored teacher James Debeuneure, 58, and student Rodney Dickens, 11, of Ketcham Elementary School; teacher Sarah Clark, 65, and student Asia Cottom, 11, of Bertie Backus Middle School; and teacher Hilda Taylor, 62, and student Bernard Brown Jr., 11, of M. V. Leckie Elementary School.
The six were on a National Geographic Society field trip to California on American Airlines Flight 77 when their hijacked plane was rammed into the Pentagon on September 11.
"The story of each of their lives is unique and wonderful the students were known for their warm hugs, and their broad smiles and their bright minds; their teachers, for their devotion to their jobs and students," Mrs. Bush told the victims' families, friends, teachers and colleagues at Bertie Backus Middle School in Northeast.
Those present reminisced about James Debeuneure's constant search for new classroom strategies and Rodney Dickens' sparkling eyes and broad, excited grin.
"He [Rodney] was a kind, nice person who always helped other people with their work," said sixth-grader Angelo Bynum. "He was one of my best friends."
Colleagues and supervisors praised the energetic Sarah Clark and her 40 years in the school system. Others laughed as they remembered Asia Cottom, the little girl hanging around the school where her father worked, impatiently asking for years when she, too, could attend Backus Middle School.
"'Is it time, Mr. Washington?' she would always ask," said Backus Principal Gary Washington. "I'll always remember that wide smile of hers."
Hilda Taylor was a mother, grandmother, sister, aunt, niece and teacher, her colleagues said, but she was foremost an educator. Bernard Brown Jr. was praised for his spelling, drawing and zest for living.
"He made an immediate impact," said Clementine Homesly, principal of M. V. Leckie Elementary School. "We miss him so very much, our Leckie gentleman."
There was song and there was dance against a massive flag as a backdrop. The D.C. school system announced a new, annual award in memory of those lost, to honor the outstanding teacher and student in each of the three schools. A private foundation announced six $10,000 scholarships in the names of the six victims.
Secretary of Education Rod Paige urged students, teachers and the community to "rededicate" ourselves to teaching and learning. "It is the best way to honor the fallen heroes," he said.
Students and families members expressed gratitude for the scholarships, the donated books and for the ceremony of remembrance.
"It was wonderful," said Dorothy Maultsby, Mr. Debeuneure's aunt. "It gave me and the others something to hold on to."


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