Mitchell Bryant

Mitchell Bryant

Chilliwack family recounts terror after gunman opens fire at Fort Lauderdale airport

Gary and Stacy Bryant and their two children caught up in melee that saw Esteban Santiago kill five

Gary and Stacy Bryant and their two children were on their way home Monday from vacation in Mexico when they arrived at Terminal 2 at Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport.

What should have been a simple stopover for the Chilliwack family at a U.S. airport on a flight between Mexico and Canada turned into a terrifying experience as they were caught in another American mass shooting rampage.

Five people were killed on Jan. 6 when 26-year-old U.S. Army reservist Esteban Santiago seemingly randomly pulled out a gun and fired at people in the airport.

In addition to the five killed, six people were hospitalized after the shooting.

Gary, Stacy and their 10-year-old daughter Taylor and 11-year-old son Mitchell waited in line for 45 minutes to check their bags for Delta Air Lines flight back to Canada.

Just as they were ready to empty pockets and place belongings into the X-ray conveyer, Gary said he will never forget what came next: the screams from what sounded like hundreds of people.

“I turned to look back from where we had just come to see a flood of people running towards us screaming, ‘run!'” he said.

From that point on, Gary said the behaviour of staff and other passengers, and the lack of any evacuation plan was disturbing.

“There was no clear indication from anyone from the airport where we were to evacuate to as all the TSA [Transportation Security Administration] agents that were at screening had vanished within seconds so the boarding area was in complete turmoil,” he said.

From there, the family fled along with everyone else, not knowing what was happening or where to go.

“Everyone was pushing and shoving, we were watching people being trampled and being unable to help as the crowd was so heavy and panic fed we did our best just to stay together.”

Things finally started to calm down as police and military presence increased, but that’s when panic began again as parents separated from young children tried to reconnect.

What frightened Gary was the lack of security or attention to all the baggage around. He pondered what if there was a bomb among the crowds gathering with their unchecked luggage?

“Had a suicide bomber been part of the attack they could have walked into the heaviest crowd and pushed a button, or pulled a weapon and started shooting,” Gary said. “We were out of the terminal, but at no time during the entire event was everyone ever safe.”

More than 1,000 people were eventually gathered into a hangar where the Bryants spent more than six hours waiting.

Eventually the family moved on to Miami the next day and, after some delays, got a flight home.

What still bothers Gary is firstly that TSA agents abandoned their posts and the passengers, something that fed the panic and fear. And secondly, that during the entire incident they never saw a single representative from Delta except for one gate attendant who got folks onto the tarmac.

paul.henderson@theprogress.com

@PeeJayAitch

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

The RCMP was called to a condo complex in Langley City in the early hours of Jan. 18, 2021, for a shooting. (Shane Mackichan/Special to the Langley Advance Times)
Our View: Too many shootings as gang war continues

We need to ask what more we could be doing to stop the endless gang wars

A lawsuit over three stormwater floods of a building over the past year has been launched against Langley City. (Langley Advance Times file)
Flooded apartment building sparks lawsuit against Langley City

A downtown landlord claims a lack of storm sewer upgrades is negligence

Abbotsford’s Willow Video location will be closing at the end of the month. (Ben Lypka/Abbotsford News)
Abbotsford’s Willow Video closing

Video game, movie retailer closing up shop after more than 20 years

Maj.-Gen. Dany Fortin, vice-president of logistics and operations at the Public Health Agency of Canada, speaks at a news conference on the COVID-19 pandemic in Ottawa, on Friday, Jan. 15, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Justin Tang
B.C. records 500 new COVID-19 cases Wednesday, 14 deaths

Outbreak at Surrey Pretrial jail, two more in health care

Vancouver Canucks’ Travis Hamonic grabs Montreal Canadiens’ Josh Anderson by the face during first period NHL action in Vancouver, Wednesday, Jan. 20, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
Horvat scores winner as Canucks dump Habs 6-5 in shootout thriller

Vancouver and Montreal clash again Thursday night

A woman writes a message on a memorial mural wall by street artist James “Smokey Devil” Hardy during a memorial to remember victims of illicit drug overdose deaths on International Overdose Awareness Day, in the Downtown Eastside of Vancouver, on Monday, August 31, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
B.C. paramedics respond to record-breaking number of overdose calls in 2020

On the front lines, COVID-19 has not only led to more calls, but increased the complexity

Eighteen-year-old Aidan Webber died in a marine accident in 2019. He was a Canadian Junior BMX champion from Nanaimo. (Submitted)
Inadequate safety training a factor in teen BMX star’s workplace death in 2019

Aidan Webber was crushed by a barge at a fish farm near Port Hardy

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

Southern resident killer whales in B.C. waters. Research shows the population’s females are more negatively influenced by vessel traffic than males. (Photo supplied by Ocean Wise Conservation Association)
Female orcas less likely to feed in presence of vessel traffic: study

Research the southern resident population raises concerns over reproduction capacity

(Black Press Media files)
Transport Canada not budging on enclosed deck rules, despite calls from BC Ferries union

There have been at least 23 cases of the U.K. variant detected in Canada, four of which are in B.C.

The Elk Valley Hospital is adapting to meet the needs of patients in the Elk Valley.
1-in-5 COVID tests coming back positive in and around Fernie, sparking concern

Dr Ron Clark of Elk Valley Hospital said one in five tests was returning positive for COVID-19

Ralliers gather in front of the Cityviews Village apartment building in Maple Ridge to protest attempts to evict low-income tenants by the building owner. (Ronan O’Doherty - The News)
Tenants protest pressure tactics by new landlord at Maple Ridge apartment building

Protest held in front of Cityviews Village on 223 St. Tuesday to rally against low-income evictions

Most Read