A Chilliwack family got caught up in what they describe as ‘absolute horror’ when a gunman started firing bullets into the crowd less than a hundred meters away from them at Florida’s Fort Lauderdale airport last week.
“I will never forget that initial scream and the sheer terror,” Gary Bryant, the father of the family, told Global News.
Bryant was on his way back to Vancouver via Fort Lauderdale after a vacation in Mexico with his wife Stacy and two children, 11-year-old Mitchell and 10-year-old Taylor.
His wife and daughter were already in the security line-up when he took his son to use the washroom.
“We were waiting to go through security,” said Stacy Bryant. “All of a sudden we heard the screaming and saw a stampede of people running. We ran too and ended up in a dead-end. Then, Gary found us and we were able to go through a door out onto the tarmac.”
She says airport authorities were yelling “code red,” but they had no idea what that meant. Only later would the family find out, it stood for “shots fired.”
The shooter, now identified as 26-year-old Iraq war veteran Esteban Santiago, pulled a handgun from a checked bag and loaded the weapon in a bathroom before opening fire in the baggage terminal.
WARNING: Viewer Discretion is Advised. TMZ has obtained security footage, which may be part of the FBI investigation, of the alleged Fort Lauderdale airport shooter starting to open fire on passengers. It’s unknown how TMZ obtained the security footage.
With no direction on where to go or how to behave, the family was on the run with the rest of the terrified passengers. Eventually, they were sent to a fenced off hanger where they spent the next 6.5 hours waiting for authorities to regain control.
Bryant says he was shaking the entire time, both from fear and adrenaline.
“I was in a survival mode to protect the family and get out of this, even though we had no idea what we were getting out of,” he said.
Stacy Bryant says they were shocked by the lack of direction and guidance from any of the airport staff.
“They ran screaming just like the rest of us,” she said. “There was no one there to tell you where to go, except for one flight attendant who was telling everyone to slow down, but people were pushing and falling over.”
Gary Bryant says there was a lot of confusion as people ran in different directions in a what is a high-security area.
“I knew that not very many of us have actually been checked and cleared,” Bryant said. “There was a threat that still existed, but it seemed to have been ignored. I never once saw any security personal do anything to check the people on the tarmac. Nobody ever made that effort and I was really shocked by that. There was a lack of coordinated communication. Nobody knew what everyone else was doing. In an environment like that, it just fed the panic. I am not an expert, but I firmly believe this was something that nobody was prepared for.”
The family is now safely back in Chilliwack, but is still waiting for their luggage to arrive. They were lucky enough to have their wallets and IDs on them when the shooting began.
Many passengers got stranded in Fort Lauderdale for days after the shooting – with just clothes on their backs, waiting for the passports and belongings to be returned.
It’s estimated 25,000 pieces of luggage, cellphones and other belongings were separated from their owners during Friday’s shooting rampage.
Immediately after the attack, Santiago was taken into custody and is now facing federal charges.
In all, five people lost their lives and six others were injured in the shooting.
Investigators are now looking into whether mental illness played a role in America’s latest mass shooting.
For the full coverage of the Fort Lauderdale shooting, go here.