Annika Dean was waiting for her luggage at the Fort Lauderdale airport when she heard gunshots and turned to see a man walking toward her with a gun in his hand.
As a teacher in Broward County schools, Dean had received disaster training, but during the school shooting drills there had always been somewhere to hide. Under a desk, in a utility closet, behind a locked classroom door. But at the airport, with the gunman just 30 feet from her, Dean had nowhere to go.
“There was no way I could have escaped,” she said. “I would have been right in his path if I had tried to evacuate through the doors.”
Instead, Dean dove to the ground next to a luggage cart and kept her eyes on the carpet, afraid to look up. People all around her had dropped to the floor. Dean stayed still and quiet, but a few passengers shouted obscenities at the shooter. He continued shooting, not speaking.
For the first 30 seconds, Dean prayed fervently that she would survive and that her two children would not be left without a mother. Then a man dropped down and lay on top of Dean, quietly telling her that he would protect her. The shooter walked over to them, the man later told Dean, and began to shoot over them, but Dean kept her eyes down and didn’t realize how close the shooter was.
It was hard to know exactly where the shooter was because he didn’t say a word. “He wasn’t talking, he was very quiet,” said Dean. “Other than the gunshots, which were very loud,” Dean didn’t hear anything else. “Sometimes he sounded close, sometimes he sounded farther away,” she said.
After what Dean said felt like a minute and a half of shooting, the police arrived. By then, the gunman was on the other side of the baggage-claim area, and when it was clear that he had been detained, Dean and the man who had saved her got up from the floor, both unharmed.
“The first thing I said to him was I thanked him and told him that it was terrifying and what he did brought me comfort, that it was just so comforting,” she said. “I thanked him throughout the day and told him he was a hero.”
The man who saved Dean, identified by the Sun Sentinel as Tony Bartosiewicz, could not be reached for comment. His daughter told the Sun Sentinel that her father was on a cruise and could not be reached. She said he was a retired electrician from Rochester, New York, who was traveling with his wife, Jennifer Cleeton, who was in a different part of the baggage-claim area when the shooting occurred and was also unharmed.
Now that the police had flooded the baggage-claim area and the paramedics had started to carry the wounded out of the airport, “we felt kind of safe,” Dean said. She would find herself fearing for her life two more times that day as she waited, trapped in the airport, for law enforcement to lift the lockdown.
The passengers felt relieved, Dean said, and started talking to each other even as the baggage-claim area remained on lockdown. After what seemed like an hour, there was another commotion and police yelled at the passengers to get down. “We weren’t sure if there was a second shooter, we weren’t sure if there was a coordinated terrorist attack,” Dean said.
She stayed on the ground for another 20 minutes, messaging friends and family on her phone to pray for her and for the other passengers trapped at the airport.
The terror was repeated for a third time an hour or so later. Dean saw a stream of people come running through the airport doors, rushing toward the passengers in the baggage-claim area.
“Our group was traumatized three times that day,” she said. “Three times we were on the ground not knowing” if they would survive.
Dean later heard that some of the people waiting outside the airport had seen a police deputy running and thought there was another attack, prompting them to run into the terminal.
With the baggage-claim area still on lockdown, security officials patted down the passengers and examined their bags. Each person in the baggage-claim area was interviewed by an FBI agent who asked them what they had seen and whether they had taken any photos or videos on their phones or had any blood on them, anything that could provide clues for law enforcement, Dean said.
At last, around 8 p.m., the ordeal ended. The passengers lined up to be bused to Port Everglades, where they were picked up by family and friends or spent the night. Dean got a ride from a friend. Even though it was late, she had to see her sons, ages 11 and 13. Dean drove to her ex-husband’s house and hugged her children.
Dean said she is still a little shaken up, but she plans to go back to work on Monday, teaching art in two Broward County elementary schools. “I’m not a person who really likes to call in sick,” she said.
Dean is still waiting for her luggage, which she hasn’t been able to locate in spite of numerous calls to Delta Air Lines and the Fort Lauderdale airport.
She thinks she will probably feel on edge in public places for a while, but she is determined not to let the shooting keep her from doing the things she loves. “Loud noises might set me off and I think I’ll probably put my phone down more often and pay attention to my surroundings,” she said. “I’m still going to go to the movies, I’m still going to go to church, I have to be in public places.”