The most mysterious house in Sarasota has got to be 4224 Escondito Drive in Prestancia. It was here that a well-to-do and well-connected Saudi family reportedly hosted visits from the 9/11 hijackers while they were in the area for flight training. Then, less than two weeks before the attacks, the family suddenly disappeared, leaving their clothes, food, cars, everything—even their twin babies’ soiled diapers.
Press coverage of the notorious 28 missing pages from the official government report of 9/11 put the house in the news again in 2016, but has done little to clear up the mystery.
The house was built in 1994 and is designed in a mixture of Med-Rev and contemporary styles. It has four bedrooms and three baths in a total of 3,750 square feet. The kitchen is nice and large; there is smallish pool that is well-secluded.
The residents were a young family named al-Hijji. The real owner was Anoud al-Hijji's father Esam Ghazzawi, a prominent interior decorator in Riyadh with ties to the royal family. Anoud wore a 10-carat heart-shaped diamond ring and westernized clothes. She and her husband, Abdulazzi, owned three cars: a Range Rover, a Lexus and a brand-new PT Cruiser. They didn't socialize much with the neighbors and didn't belong to the country club at Prestancia. But they did like going to the movies at Sarasota Square Mall.
Reports say the home was opulently furnished. Exactly how it got “un-owned” by the al-Hijjis is a little unclear—it was never seized by the government—but local realtor Louise Tessier of Keller Williams was approached by the family before the attacks when they were planning to sell. Later, the house had a succession of owners, including, for a brief period, Joel Schemmel of Premier Sotheby’s. As of September 2021, the Zillow estimated value is $824,200.
The issue here is Saudi knowledge and possible support of the 9/11 attacks. Records from the guard gates at Prestancia, which is one of Sarasota’s more prestigious gated communities, show cars belonging to Mohamed Atta and other hijackers coming and going. It’s part of a larger mystery, and one that has yet to be explored in-depth. What did the hijackers do during that year they were here? Who did they hang out with? What other clues are out there, strewn around town, yet to be discovered?