A CALL FOR GUN REFORM: “Praying Won’t Bring These People Back”
We have become, many of us, numb to the regular occurrences of mass shootings within the United States.
That's not to say they are ignored.
In fact, the most recent glaring example of our shameful state of constant murders of innocents in public places at the hands of evil and/or demented losers who take out their frustration in vile fashion dominated the news.
You recall, word came on Friday, Jan 6 that people had been shot at the Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport.
We watched, we shook our heads, we said what sort of world are we living in that our leaders don't work on reducing these events and instead many argue in lockstep with the NRA lobbyists that the answer to the gun violence is to add more guns to the mix, so the “good guys” can take down the “bad guys.”
On Jan. 6, my friend Doug Jacobs, who puts together pay per view events, went from being someone who watched and shook his head, to someone experiencing a more personal and deeply felt reaction. Doug's daughter Sabrina, you see, was at the airport, due to touch down, for a visit with her grandparents, as the shooting incident was playing out.
College freshman Sabrina Jacobs of New Jersey posing with father Doug Jacobs
“Sabrina texted me when she landed and about a minute later I saw the Ari Fleischer text,” Doug told me a couple days after the harrowing circumstance. The former press secretary for George W Bush (Jan. 2001-July 2003) was in the airport and Tweeted out that he heard shots fired.
“I called Sabrina and she knew about the shooting but since she was in a different terminal, since she flew JetBlue, they emptied the plane and let them go to the luggage claim area,” the NJ resident continued.
“I stayed in touch with her and my parents who were picking her up but the roads into the airport were shut down. I also jumped on the computer and CNN had a link to a live feed from a Ft Lauderdale TV station so we were relaying info to Sabrina and my parents. We wanted Sabrina to leave ASAP so after she spoke to a TSA agent, they told her if she went to the Cypress Garage my parents should be able to pull up in the back and she could meet them. Cheryl my wife stayed on phone while Sabrina walked to the garage and we were watching the live feed. Cheryl heard shouting and the phone went dead. Initially I said it was probably just a phone issue but then on TV we saw people running and news said there may be a second shooter. We were flipping out. We finally got a text from Sabrina saying she is hiding with police.”
I checked in with Sabrina, age 18, a freshman studying Visual and Media Arts and political science at Emerson College in Boston. She went to Northern Valley Demarest High School and grew up in Demarest, NJ.
“I got into Fort Lauderdale at 1:27 pm, after the shooting at Delta had occurred and I was flying on JetBlue. I was going to Delray Beach to visit my grandparents and play tennis. So, because of cellphones and tvs on the plane, passengers had already realized the shooting had taken place. They were asking the flight attendant what was going on, but she said that we probably knew more than her and the pilot because we had our cell phones. I didn't realize there was a shooting, I just knew “something” was going on. I had taken out my phone to Google it, when the flight attendant finally made an announcement that there was a shooting at the Delta terminal, but they had caught the gunman and since we were flying into JetBlue we would be fine. At the time, I didn't realize that the JetBlue and Delta terminal were right next to each other. Thinking my grandparents were already at the terminal, I called them to ask if they were ok. They told me they were in traffic and hadn't gotten to the airport, and didn't even know there was a shooting until I told them. They let us off the plane, I went to baggage to get my luggage, and even though everyone was on edge, people were trying to proceed normally. Looking back, I can't believe they landed the plane in Fort Lauderdale after the shooting. A Broward County officer told me they didn't want to mess up air traffic and they assumed everything was safe because they had already caught him. Still, no one was able to get in the airport or leave so it was very confusing at that point.”
She continued: “After picking up my luggage, I was in contact with my parents and grandparents and both wanted me to get out of the airport as soon as possible. Since my grandparents couldn't get into the airport, I had to figure out a way to meet them. I talked to someone who worked at the airport and he told me that I could meet my grandparents at the other side of the Cypress Garage. I was walking towards the garage, a few passengers were around me as well as some police officers. Suddenly, a woman screamed, “They have their guns out!” referring to the police officers. Someone screamed something about another shooter and I ran. There was a staircase with a crawl space underneath so about eight of us hid under there. I dropped my suitcase in an effort to hide. A police officer squatted in front of us with his gun out and reported that he was with eight civilians. All around us, officers were running around with their guns up and we could hear radio reports about a man in a white shirt spotted with a gun on the second floor of the Cypress Garage. Right above us. I honestly started to cry a little. I was terrified. I thought the gunman was going to walk down the stairs any second. I thought I was going to die. My parents, who I had been on the phone with before I ran, were trying to contact me and figure out what was happening. I texted them back and told them I was fine and that I loved them. A woman hiding with me asked if I was alone and I told her that I was, and that I was 18 and just trying to visit my grandparents and play tennis. The police officer said he wouldn't let anything happen to me. I honestly have no clue how long we were hiding under there, but finally the officer said he was going to move us one by one to a safer location. He would move me last so he could run with me. He moved everyone, and then got to me. This is the moment of the photo that came out. He told me to grab onto his vest, leave my luggage, and run. I got down low, afraid there would be bullets flying above my head. I ran as fast as I could. It honestly felt unreal. He took me to a curb where a group of vans were parked. A group of people were hiding behind the vans. From there, I could see the officers and SWAT team running across the top of the garage, along with reporters all around us. My parents texted me and said they saw me running with the officer. I couldn't believe it, but in that moment I was so thankful I was alive.”
And the anxiety didn't end there.
“After we hid behind the vans for a while, they moved us to terminal 1 baggage claim,” Sabrina said. “We were there for awhile, watching the news of the shooting on the tv as it happened all around us. There were a lot of people there, maybe 200 or so. I sat with a couple who I hid under the staircase with and talked to a few other college students. It's honestly amazing how we all latched onto each other for support so quickly. No one else could know what we were experiencing. At that point, my grandparents were getting anxious to retrieve me and heard that there might be busses sent to pick us up. However, we sat in the terminal for awhile and eventually the SWAT team came in, patted us down and checked our bags, and had us all sit on the baggage carousel. Eventually we were led outside and thought we would could be leaving–but we weren't. At this point, it was around 5:00 pm. Keep in mind I got off the plane at around 1:30. We stood outside, thinking busses would pick us up soon. My grandparents had heard from outside officers that they were sending the busses, but no one inside the situation was telling us anything. The SWAT team and police officers surrounded us but we knew nothing. We couldn't use the bathroom, had no food, and no water. Finally, I found a man who looked like he worked in law enforcement and asked him what was happening. He said we might not be picked up for another five or six hours. I couldn't believe it. We stood outside for hours, when they announced that the garages were open and people who had cars could leave. I found a member of the SWAT team and asked if they were sending busses for us. He said they were, and I walked towards the garage to see if I could find my bag before the bus came. Unfortunately, I didn't know how to get there without going the way I came but that entrance was closed. I asked a security guard how to get there, but he honestly wasn't much help and he led me to southwest terminal. Busses started to show up and I gave up on my suitcase. At this point it is 8 pm. The busses filled up quickly and I couldn't get on one until 8:30 pm. They said they were sending us to Port Everglades, which is 15 minutes from the airport. However, due to the traffic, the bus wasn't moving. There were no seats in the bus and I was starting to feel sick from the stress of the day and not eating so I sat on the floor. I told myself I would be there by 9:15. The minutes passed. The bus was moving slowly. It stopped. It moved. Over and over. Finally, I checked the time. It was 9:50 pm. I had been on the bus for an hour and half. The bus was completely stopped for 10 minutes before the doors opened. We got off the bus at 10 pm, but I quickly realized I wasn't at the port. My grandparents told me they were opposite a giant cruise ship but there was no cruise ship. We were on a highway. I followed the crowd and walked along the highway, and finally saw an entrance for Port Everglades and terminal 4, where my grandparents were. After walking about half a mile, I finally made it to them. I got off the plane at 1:30 PM and made it to my grandparents at 10:00 PM.”
Was she then able to get some rest?
“I thought I would be too wired to sleep, but I had a headache and passed out as soon as my head hit the pillow,” the student told me. “I couldn't eat though. My grandparents took me to a diner and all I could have was a little chicken broth.”
Her dad Doug shared more recollections from the event. It was made more clear to me how this sort of mass shooting affects not only the person on scene, but family and friends as well.
“We have all seen various awful events on TV from 9-11 to Orlando but until you have a family member involved it still seems outside your personal world,” Doug, Sabrina's father, told me. “Sabrina stayed in touch while she was hiding but then I looked at my computer screen and saw her running with a police officer. On one hand I was glad to see her but also terrified of wondering why she needed to run from that spot. She texted that they moved and were hiding behind cars. She was then moved to a terminal when they realized there was no second shooter.”
The event has but of course made Doug Jacobs think harder about the sad and sick state of a nation in the throes of a gun violence epidemic.
“You think that these mass shootings or terror attacks can't happen to you but unfortunately they can really happen any time, to anyone. Five people died and in the end Sabrina was scared but safe and never in true danger. They are the true victims along with the family members left behind.”
Sabrina too continues to wrestle with the issue and an emotional hangover.
“I've always been a strong advocate for gun control and this experience has placed me in a position to do something about it,” Sabrina said. “Five lives were lost and it absolutely horrifies me. I'm so sorry to the families of the victims. This should never have happened. There is no reason why we don't have common sense gun control in this country. First of all, the alleged gunman's gun was checked in his bag. I don't care if he has a military license. Peoples' lives were taken. A gun should not be able to be checked on a plane. Second, this man was mentally ill. He was hearing voices. He believed the government was controlling his mind. How was he able to buy a gun? The fact that many Republicans in our government refuse to budge on this issue is utterly selfish and quite frankly, they are risking the lives of Americans. I stood next to a six month year old baby while I was trapped in the airport. She should never have been put in danger like that. The victims' lives are in the hands of people like Rick Scott, who simply wants us to pray. How about policy change? Praying won't bring these people back. And now Florida senators want to introduce bills that eliminate gun-free zones, such as airports. That's horrible and will only increase the problem of gun violence in this country, especially in Florida, which was affected not only by The January 6 shooting but the Pulse Nightclub shooting in June. That's my final takeaway. Something needs to be done in this country about gun safety.”