Thousands of travelers and others at the busy Fort Lauderdale airport during Friday’s deadly shooting were kept on lockdown for more than six hours — some reliving their fears through false reports of a second shooting; others stuck on planes, or in their cars awaiting word from loved ones; and many just amassed at the tarmac hoping for a green light to head home.
“People were extremely emotional, crying, horrified,” said Constance McIntyre, 53, who hid in a bathroom stall during the reports of a second shooting. “I didn’t even know if it was a safe place. You feel so vulnerable there. It was stressful and terrifying.”
She and her husband, Vincent McIntyre, had arrived about 1 p.m. to drop off their daughter for a flight to Jamaica at Terminal 4. He soon found out that at Terminal 2, the gunman had opened fire moments earlier. And now, they were part of the second wave of panic. People who heard the reports of another round of shots ran toward Terminal 4. TV news footage showed people ducking behind vehicles and hiding as they again ran.
Vincent McIntyre said that at one point he heard a commotion in the parking area and moments later saw officers searching for people.
“We saw them running toward some guys with their guns drawn, and people around them scattered. They tackled two men and got their bags,” he said.
He said they put one of the suitcases in a bright yellow container and then heard over the speakers that authorities were going to conduct a controlled explosion of a suspicious package.
Ronnie Coutu, a 38-year-old Raleigh, North Carolina, businessman, said he spent hours on a Southwest Airlines plane before he had to be evacuated because of a diabetic emergency.
“The airport did a good job trying to keep up,” Coutu said as he left the emergency room. “They brought water, food and dumped the lavatories.”
He and his wife, Ashley Lambert, said there was confusion on the plane when it landed in Fort Lauderdale and sat unmoving on the tarmac. Then another passenger yelled, “There’s been a shooting,” and a flight attendant confirmed it, they said.
After sunset, McIntyre and his family were still at the airport waiting for his daughter, whose flight was grounded, to come out. Broward County Sheriff Scott Israel said the airport would remain closed until the entire facility was secure.
About 6:30 p.m., SWAT team members began escorting the people who had been standing in the check-in area of Terminal 2 to a parking garage.
About 7:15 p.m., with all flights still grounded, authorities said travelers with vehicles were being allowed to leave the airport and others were being taken in buses to a seaport terminal nearby.