Ft. Lauderdale Airport. 24 Hours Later. A Mother’s Worst Nightmare

I’m sitting in my car writing this. I got very little sleep last night playing over the events in my head. All the possibilities. The could haves. The what ifs. My child, my dear sweet boy ending up in the wrong place at the wrong time.

He was so close and yet, fate intervened.

Yesterday morning I dropped Jared off at the airport. Specifically, the Delta terminal. Despite my objections, he was going ahead anyway with a once-in-a-lifetime trip to Egypt and Abu Dhabi. As a mother, I hated the idea of it — Egypt not being exactly the safest of places these days. But as a fellow wanderlust, the idea of seeing the pyramids, Giza, the Nile, the Valley of the Kings … I would have loved to have gone along. And if he had asked, maybe I would have. But he didn’t. (Probably because he claims I embarrass him. What the hell does he know?)

The plane, at this point, was on time, so there was no need for me to hang around. So off I went about my day, expecting to get a text early the next morning advising that he’d arrived safely. However, not more than two hours later, the poop hit the fan.

Like everyone else, I watched the events unraveling. I was glued to the TV, the tweets and everything else streaming in pieces of the details, freaking out, wondering, worrying, praying — all those things as a parent you can’t help but do — until word comes. Which it did.

“I’m still on the plane,” he texted. “But I’m safe. So don’t worry.” (Yeah. Right. As if I had a fucking choice in the matter). From there, in small data bits, he revealed his confusion and hints of fear as he watched lots of people, luggage in hand, running out of the terminal across the tarmac to avoid getting shot. There were rumors of a second shooter. That’s when more people spilled out of the terminal, turning the scene into one of bedlam where five people died, eight injured and another forty suffered an array of sprains, bruises and broken bones rushing to evacuate after the attack.

Fleeing Delta Terminal (photo credit: Wilfredo Lee)

Fleeing Delta Terminal (photo credit: Wilfredo Lee)

According to reports, one witness said: “the attacker gunned down his victims without a word and kept shooting until he ran out of ammunition from his handgun, forcing people to hide in bathroom stalls or crouch behind cars of anything else they could find.”

Another said: “he and his wife were in the baggage claim area when the shooting began. All of a sudden we kind of heard three quick cracks.” The initial thought was they were firecrackers, then he realized there was a shooting in progress. He hurriedly got his wife out of the building and then went back to see if he could help. At this point, the gunman had been taken into custody. So he started checking on people and came upon a woman who was shot in the shoulder and bleeding profusely. A few feet away her husband, Michael Oehme, was lying lifeless on the ground.

For eight hours my son and his fellow passengers remained on that plane. A plane that didn’t go anywhere because the airport immediately went into lockdown mode. No flights in or out. Throughout the day we exchanged a flurry of texts and calls. And while I felt relieved on the surface knowing he was okay, deep down … wow … I never felt more frightened in my whole life. Reminded how life can change on a dime.

The world at a standstill (photo credit: Lynne Sladk)

The world at a standstill (photo credit: Lynne Sladk)

I’m profoundly saddened that the shooter had lost his footing in life and saw no alternative. I’m saddened a volunteer fireman from Virginia Beach will never reach that next birthday. I’m saddened by what has become of us. That nothing is sacred anymore or safe. That our outrage, though never forgotten, eventually moves on.

Until something else happens.

The thing is, tragedies such as these have become an all-too common occurrence. Yes, through experience we’ve changed tactics. But the truth is no matter how much you beef up security, change your game plan, a disease is still a disease. Tough to eradicate. Because it will do what all diseases do. Fester and spread. Ooze from underneath a Bandaid that cannot contain it.

However, despite knowing that this is sometimes an uphill battle, I don’t think for one moment we should ever stop trying to change things. To look for the signs of a person in mental or emotional danger before it’s too late. That’s what I think. That’s what I believe. We’re all in this bowl of humanity together folks. And if we were meant to walk this crazy road alone, then we wouldn’t love as hard as we do.

So don’t just stand there. Go hug your child. Hug yourself. Kiss your dog. Call a friend. Let them know the door is ALWAYS open.

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 800-273-8255

National Alliance on Mental Illness 800-950-6264

Domestic Violence 800-799-7233

Families Anonymous 800-736-9805

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  1. Elvin Nabors says

    Yes, this has become all too common place. Another case of a veteran asking for help, and the system letting him down. The reports are that he asked for help and was released from a mental health facility after only 4 days. Too many of them commit suicide, and unfortunately, this was his way out. I’m glad you posted the phone numbers for helplines that might be able to assist.

    • says

      Sadly what you say bears merit. We fail ourselves and each other on so many levels. A recent update from NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness):

      “Approximately 1 in 5 adults in the U.S.—43.8 million, or 18.5%—experiences mental illness in a given year. Approximately 1 in 25 adults in the U.S.—10 million, or 4.2%—experiences a serious mental illness in a given year that substantially interferes with or limits one or more major life activities.”

  2. Susan Navarra says

    So glad Jared was NOT harmed. So saddened by those that were and their families, and the poor witnesses of such a tragic event. It seems these horrifying occurrences will never end. So many sick souls…

    • admin says

      I really appreciate the out pour of concern. And I can’t help but imagine he has walked away with a new perspective on a great many things. Things that he will carry with him for the rest of his life.

  3. Susan Brownstein says

    That was so beautifully written and heartfelt…..thank God Jared is safe!!!! Important changes need to be made in the world, but unfortunately, there will always be “lone wolves” who manage to get their way no matter what.

    • admin says

      Yes … thank God. I just got word from him he finally arrived in Cairo. And safely. As to those “lone wolves,” I agree there will always be those that exist on the perimeter of life, unattended to. Doing whatever, to whoever. Unfortunately.

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