A shooter opened fire Friday afternoon at Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport in Florida, killing five people and injuring eight others before being taken into custody, the Broward County sheriff said.
The gunman appeared to be shooting randomly into a crowd as panicked travelers took cover from a barrage of bullets — and he only stopped when the ammo ran out, according to witnesses.
The Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood airport, located about 25 miles north of Miami, tweeted the incident occurred at a baggage claim inside Terminal 2. Calls came in around 12:55 p.m. ET.
“At first we thought it was firecrackers,” Mark Lea, 53, told MSNBC. “Everyone started screaming and running. The shooter made his way down through baggage claim. He had what looked like a 9 mm and emptied his entire clip. People were trying to run.”
Lea said the shooting only stopped because the gunman ran out of bullets.
John Schicher told MSNBC he had just arrived at baggage claim with his wife and mother-in-law when the gunman started firing just feet away from him.
“He was holding a black handgun and he was just shooting randomly into the crowd,” Schicher, who said he was “in shock,” told MSNBC. “There were elderly people who were shot and killed, there were two people to my left and two people to my right that were shot.”
The gunman said nothing and didn’t appear to be targeting anyone specifically, Schicher said, adding that the shooter had time to reload his gun before he was stopped by police.
“He walked over and he was right in our area, like within just feet of us, shooting people. I didn’t know if I would be shot or if my wife or my mother-in-law would either,” he said.
Schicher said he called 911 after the shots were fired, while his wife administered first aid to a man that had been shot in the head. His mother-in-law used her sweater to put pressure on another man’s gunshot wound, but “he was gone already” by that point.
The shooter was wearing a blue “Star Wars” t-shirt, according to Schicher. He didn’t get a good glimpse of the suspect.
“I put my head down and prayed,” he said. “We stayed down.”
In the aftermath of the chaos, cameras outside the airport showed firefighters and other emergency personnel, plus large groups of passengers, standing on a tarmac. The Federal Aviation Administration did not immediately order an official ground stop at Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood, but officials were not letting anyone inside.
Bob Foster was inside another terminal, waiting for his flight, when crews evacuated everyone outside.
“We were told to hit the deck and we stayed there until we were given the green light to leave,” said Foster, speaking to MSNBC from an airport tarmac. “Needless to say, everybody’s pretty shaken up.”
Former White House press secretary Ari Fleischer tweeted that he was at the airport at the time of the shooting and “everyone is running.” He later tweeted that “all seems calm.”
The airport says over 73,000 travelers pass through each day. It’s located minutes from residential strips of high-rise condominiums, aging fishing marinas and restaurants crammed tightly together along Hollywood beach.
The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives said agents were going to the scene to help state and local authorities.
A law enforcement expert said authorities will try to determine who the suspect is and whether there are other plots afoot.
“You’re trying to understand, is this a one-off guy? Regardless of motive, is he alone, or is there something else?” law enforcement expert Jim Cavanaugh told MSNBC. “We hate to think that way, but that’s the requirement for police commanders — to think that way.”
Fatal shootings at airports, where security is tight, are unusual. In November 2016, a disgruntled former employee opened fire at the Will Rogers World Airport in Oklahoma City, killing a Southwest Airlines worker.