We knew from the beginning that last Friday would be a long day. The plan was for Jason to wake up in Wesley Chapel, catch an early morning flight to Hollywood (FL) for a deposition, then fly back to Tallahassee by way of Orlando.
As you can imagine, things didn’t go as planned.
The deposition ended around lunch time, so Jason headed back to the airport to kill time and work until his 4:00 pm flight.
Around 1:15, I got a breaking news alert that there had been a shooting “in Ft. Lauderdale.” Figuring that Ft. Lauderdale is a pretty big place, and the airport is one of the more secure locations therein, I called Jason and jokingly asked if he was being shot at.
“I was just texting you. That was in the next terminal.”
I turned on the news and got off the phone, so he could conserve his battery and pay attention to his surroundings. It’s the second time in my life I have been grateful for non-stop coverage of breaking news. The first time was on September 11, 2001. I watched and waited, occasionally texting Jason for updates. I knew that making my anxiety (rather than Jason’s safety) the focus of my energy was counterproductive. So I tried to stay calm and process the information being broadcast.
There was only one time I nearly lost it. The on-air anchor was speaking with a witness to the shooting, who was still in the baggage claim area. Suddenly there was a commotion in the background, and the witness said an announcement had been made over the PA system that there was more shooting, that everyone needed to get down and stay down. He was choked up, panicking, and I was right there with him.
Jason had been on the floor of Terminal 1 with everyone else, but eventually that terminal was evacuated as well. He did not run – he told me later that, when you don’t know from which direction your threat is, it’s senseless to run. You might be running right towards the danger. He took his bags to the tarmac – even though he was not freaking out, he had no desire to go back into the airport building. Possibly ever.
Everyone was moving away from the terminal building, so Jason started walking across the runways and grassy strips towards the hangars at the back of the airport property. At one point, he took shelter under an overpass bridge. A police officer with his group stated that they thought the shooter might be on top of the bridge. After a bit, the group continued away from the airport, ending up at a maintenance building.
That’s when Jason got lucky. He spotted a cab that had come to the shed for maintenance. He convinced the cab driver to get him out of there, and shared the car with a couple from Indiana. The cabbie took them to a rental car agency outside of the airport property, where he rented a car and started driving north.
The universe had one more surprise for Jason, though. He drove home through a terrible winter storm that also traveled the length of Florida on Friday. I tried to watch TV. I compulsively checked his location using my phone. I felt the temperature falling. The cold rain beat him home by half an hour, and by the time he pulled into our driveway at 11:00 p.m., conditions outside were pretty miserable.
He was exhausted, in shock, and angry. He was practically vibrating from the emotional toll of the day.
Jason says he’s fine. I believe him. He doesn’t like to talk about his experience, because he IS fine. He wasn’t hurt, he didn’t panic, he handled the situation with his usual level-headedness and good cheer. But on the other hand, he did go through an ordeal that was objectively stressful, not to mention devastating for at least 11 families. He was a part, however small, of a national tragedy. It’s a weird place to be.