When Man Shot Passengers at Baggage Claim in Fort Lauderdale, the Airport Response Was a Giant Cluster

On January 6 a mentally ill man (who had previously tried to turn himself in to the FBI) flew from Anchorage to Fort Lauderdale. He checked a bag with his handgun, collected the gun from baggage claim, and after loading it in the restroom proceeded to kill 5 people and wound 6 more before surrendering to police at 1 p.m. in the afternoon.

Though the ‘all clear’ was given six hours later, some people couldn’t get out of the airport until long after midnight. The Fort Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel investigated what went wrong with the response (HT: Miles From Blighty).

  • 3 officers erroneously reported additional shots fired after the shooter was taken down.

    “I heard the shooting from inside the garage. Across from Terminal 4,” an officer said at 2:23 p.m. over a police radio.

    “Shots fired, shots fired. Terminal 4,” an officer said at 2:25 p.m., with screaming in the background.

    “Terminal 1. Shots fired,” another officer said seconds later.

    “Active shooter, 50 Terminal Drive, Southwest Airlines,” a dispatcher reported.

  • In response “as many as 2,400 officers” showed up at the airport and overwhelmed the county’s radio system so officers couldn’t communicate with each other.

  • Passenger chaos was exacerbated by plain clothes officers running with guns. People thought they were shooters.

    Frank Meyers of Columbus, Ohio, a traveler in Terminal 1, told the Sun Sentinel that he saw a man with a pistol, in civilian clothes, running toward his daughter. Although someone quickly said the man was a police officer, Meyers said, “He scared the hell out of everybody.”

    Another traveler posted video online of a man in a sweatshirt, jeans, ball cap and backpack, running in a terminal, gun in hand. The Broward Sheriff’s Office told the Sun Sentinel the man on the video is a law enforcement officer. One witness told the Sun Sentinel he had a badge around his neck. Seen from behind in the video, he is not recognizable as law enforcement.

    Even police seemed confused. Police surrounded a man in a white T-shirt who may have been one of their own. They noted on the radio that he “possibly has a badge.”

  • Passengers think the TSA is there to protect them, but TSA agents are actually trained to run and hide.

    A Maryland couple told the county that TSA and airport security personnel “pushed people aside.” A British Columbia couple, Cam and Linda Vallee, said a TSA worker used their daughter’s back “as a stepping stool to get over her and ahead of the screaming crowd.”

    TSA spokeswoman Sari Koshetz said…“TSA employees — like so many others that day — were heroic in their efforts to protect and shelter others”

    This isn’t the first time we’ve had an airport shooter, or mistaken reports of an airport shooter, that caused terminals to be evacuated. At New York JFK in August, where cheering for the Olympics was mistaken for gun shots, TSA agents ran through the airport screaming about a bomb and a shooting victim.

    Copyright: boscorelli / 123RF Stock Photo

Broward Sheriff Scott Israel “was in charge” and he says “everything was done excellently.” Although he says at some point the FBI took charge. The airport’s security chief says, “I’m very comfortable with the decisions that were made that day.”

The Sheriff went on tv at 3:25 p.m. declaring that there were no other shooters or shots fired. People still weren’t allowed to begin leaving the airport for over three more hours.

“No water, no sitting, no restrooms,” said Philip Dubois, chancellor of the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, who wrote to the Broward County Commission to complain after he and his wife fled Terminal 3 and found themselves on the tarmac for hours.

…Frank Biancucci, of Ontario, Canada, a retired deputy fire chief, spent seven hours on the tarmac and five more on a sidewalk.

…Calls to 911 for medical help included a 2-year-old described as lethargic, a heart patient with no medication, an elderly woman suffering from Parkinson’s disease in distress, an 8-year-old vomiting and an 88-year-old woman who had collapsed.

…law enforcement prevented airport personnel from moving about the airfield to distribute provisions to passengers.

The airport spokesman’s spokesman says information was limited deliberately to prevent “the bad guys” from learning what was going on. Even after the Sheriff was on television informing the broader public that they knew there were no other bad guys.

Buses were still leaving the airport to move passengers off property at 1 a.m.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community InsideFlyer.com, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. An almost identical situation happened at the shooting at LAX TSA checkpoint some years ago where a TSA agent died, largely because ambulances were not allowed to go to Terminal 3 because of a false report of additional shots fired in the parking garage across the street. As a result, paramedics were delayed getting to the mortally wounded agent who was wheeled in a wheelchair down the sidewalk to meet them in front of Terminal One where all traffic was halted.

    I didn’t see whether this false report caused a similar delay of medical care that could have saved lives at FLL, but remember the helplessness of watching on TV LAPD SWAT search the parking garage while the area was shutdown, knowing that ambulances weren’t being allowed to tend to the injured. It cost a TSA agent his life, proving that they are the first line of defense as well as unarmed sitting ducks.

  2. On one hand you see the posters all over the checkpoints telling you how they are here for your protection, you see the guy in the booth that is raised up, you have the people getting patdowns and the TSA agents informing people “For your security, please remove all items…………….”

    Then this……………….

    A Maryland couple told the county that TSA and airport security personnel “pushed people aside.” A British Columbia couple, Cam and Linda Vallee, said a TSA worker used their daughter’s back “as a stepping stool to get over her and ahead of the screaming crowd.”

    I wish TMZ had a video of the TSA worker using one foot to plant on the daughters back and the other foot leading the charge to get out of the way.

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