Members of the University of Vermont women’s swim team witnessed the panic and some were injured in a stampede that followed Friday’s shooting at Fort Lauderdale airport that killed five people.
The team’s 37 athletes and five coaches were in the next terminal over from where the shooting occurred, preparing to return home from training in Key Largo, coach Gerry Cournoyer told The Associated Press. They did not hear or witness the shooting. But mass panic broke out in their terminal shortly after the shooting, prompting a stampede that forced everyone out onto the tarmac, Cournoyer said.
“We hear screams from the other end of our terminal down by security, and we hear ‘get down, get down, get down,’ and we see a mad stampede,” he said.
Several team members were injured in the rush. One has a broken foot, another a sprained ankle and several have concussions, Cournoyer said.
The women are handling the emotional trauma well, despite a long day of confusion, the coach said. Many still have items in the airport they abandoned, including IDs, shoes and laptops.
“It’s an extremely emotional day,” Cournoyer said. “They’re definitely feeling that - the trauma.”
Authorities have identified the suspect as 26-year-old Esteban Santiago, an Iraq war veteran they say appeared to have traveled there specifically to carry out the attack.
Cournoyer said he first learned about the shooting through texts from his in-laws, who happened to be in the terminal where the shooting occurred. They were unharmed. Travelers in his terminal learned more from TV news reports before they were evacuated, he added.
It was about an hour later that Cournoyer described a rush of people running through the terminal, prompting a panic.
“We’re not sure what happened in our terminal to set that panic,” he said.
Hours later, buses picked up the stranded people, Cournoyer said. The team finally checked into a hotel late Friday night. They are still in Florida but plan on returning Sunday to Vermont.
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