By Joyce DeWallace, Contributing Writer
Shrewsbury – Five people were killed and six others were injured at the Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport in Florida Jan. 6. Shrewsbury resident Kelsey Shea, a nursing student at Emerson College in Beverly, just happened to be in the wrong place that day.
She had just returned from a New Year’s cruise with four friends. After they disembarked from the Caribbean Princess, they headed to the airport arriving in mid-morning. Shea headed to Terminal 4 for her 3:45 p.m. Spirit Airline flight. She bought a snack and settled in the gate area watching a Netflix movie on her phone.
At about quarter to one, a lady in front of Shea told her that there had been a shooting in the Terminal 2 baggage claim area. She packed up her belongings and tried to find out what was happening. She called a friend back in Shrewsbury to check the news. No one at the airport was saying anything. There was no extra security, so Shea learned about the shooting from news on Twitter.
“I really didn’t know what to do. No one was directing us,” said Shea. “There was a flurry of texts to family and friends saying I was OK.”
At about 2:30 p.m., Shea recalled, a woman started screaming, “Sir! Sir!” Then all hell broke loose. People started running, and there was one bang.
“I jumped underneath a row of chairs and covered myself in suitcases,” she said. “Only one person was still standing, and I knew I had to get out of there.”
She ran to the nearest exit. People were shoving and pushing and jamming themselves in the jetway, all trying to get out of the terminal.
“It was mad chaos,” Shea noted.
With hundreds of other stranded and scared passengers, she fled to the tarmac trying to figure out what to do. When another person screamed, the whole pack started running away from the scream.
“I saw a man and his wife standing calmly off to the side, and I walked up to him and asked if I could just stay with him until we knew what was going on,” explained Shea.
He told her he had been through this before on 9/11; he had been in the South Tower of the World Trade Center.
“We waited together out in the open for six more hours before we were finally brought inside and directed for the first time. We were told to wait in a line to get shuttled back to the cruise terminal where I had started my day,” explained Shea.
The three of them finally boarded a shuttle after midnight.
“We had no food, no water or further instructions, and finally got to the cruise terminal at 1:30 in the morning. Bob and Kathy Dibble were my saviors. They had a house in Fort Lauderdale and took me there for the rest of night,” said Shea.
Her 7 a.m. morning flight was delayed until 9 a.m. and she finally landed in Boston around noon. It was the last flight to get into Logan Airport because of the snowstorm. Her mother, father and brother were overjoyed to finally have their daughter back, exhausted but safe.
Before the cruise, Shea had spent her first semester abroad in Australia, where she traveled extensively, flying to Sydney, Whitsunday Island, Melbourne and New Zealand with no incidents.
“I just felt safe over there all the time, so this experience in Florida was such an eye-opener,” she said. “I used to be very unaware of my surroundings. I had a hard time just walking back into the airport. It was a crime scene and looked creepy and ominous. Shoes on the ground, dropped luggage, spilled drinks, and food scattered everywhere. You could tell people had just run for their lives. I had a hard time checking in, going through security and waiting in the yellow-taped terminal.”
When asked how this experience changed her, Shea replied, “It’s made me extremely grateful for what I have. It’s made me realize that small things are not worth getting upset about, and I’m more focused on what’s really important. It will haunt me forever that innocent people died just waiting for their luggage, and I was spared. The number of people who reached out to me made me realize that
caring for others comes back tenfold. I will be grateful forever to the couple who took me under their wing and made me feel protected and safe during this harrowing experience.”