FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. (REUTERS) – A gunman with a US military identification opened fire at a baggage carousel at Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport on Friday (Jan 6), killing five people before being taken into custody, officials and witnesses said.
Five people died and eight more were wounded in the incident, the local sheriff’s office said.
The shooter, who said nothing, appeared to be a man in his 20s wearing a Star Wars T-shirt who was shot by police as he attempted to reload, MSNBC reported, citing witnesses.
John Schlicher, who told MSNBC he saw the attack, described the shooter as a “slender man” who was “directly firing at us” while passengers waited for their bags to come off the carousel.
“I put my head down and prayed,” Schlicher said, adding that his wife gave first aid to someone who had been shot in the head. His mother-in-law used her sweater to tend to another victim but it turned out that victim was already dead, Schlicher said.
The shooter reloaded once for a second burst of shooting, Schlicher said, but he could not say how many bullets were fired. The shooting took place at the Terminal 2 baggage claim, said a post on the airport’s Twitter account.
Diane Haggerty told ABC News: "I was behind a kiosk. I had a perfect picture of him coming and walking up and down shooting the people. I just can't believe that that was possible."
Mark Lea, another eyewitness, told MSNBC “there was no rhyme or reason to it.”
“He didn’t say anything, he was quiet the whole time, he didn’t yell anything,” Lea said.
Security officials corralled passengers underneath jetways and on the runway apron, according to images on cable news networks.
Ari Fleischer, a former press secretary for US President George W. Bush, said on Twitter shots were fired and “everyone is running.”
“All seems calm now but the police aren’t letting anyone out of the airport – at least not the area where I am,” he said.
A woman tended to a bleeding, seated man outside an airport building, according to a photo posted on Twitter by a Michigan information technology company.
The Broward Sheriff’s Office received a call at about 12.55 pm local time about shots fired at 100 Terminal Drive at the airport, the department wrote on Twitter. All services were temporarily suspended, the airport’s Twitter feed said.
Florida Governor Rick Scott was traveling to Fort Lauderdale to be briefed by law enforcement, his office said in a statement. The FBI’s Miami office was “aware of the situation” and in contact with local authorities, a spokesman said in an email. No further information was immediately available.
Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport is the second largest in South Florida, serving as an intercontinental gateway, with Miami International Airport known as the primary airport for international flights in the area. Some 20 miles (30 km) north of Miami, the Fort Lauderdale airport is near cruise line terminals at Port Everglades.
HISTORY OF SHOOTINGS
Friday’s attack comes nearly two months after a former Southwest Airlines worker killed an employee of the company at Oklahoma City’s airport in what police called a premeditated act.
The deadliest mass shooting in modern US history took place in June, when a gunman apparently inspired by Islamic State of Iraq and Syria killed 53 people and wounded 49 others at a gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida.
One of the most shocking took place in 2012, when a man entered an elementary school in Newtown, Connecticut, and shot dead 20 first-graders and six adults.
Attackers from Fort Lauderdale to Brussels have exploited security officials’ focus on preventing attacks on airplanes rather than inside airports. In Western Europe and the United States, terminals are easily accessible public spaces.
But at Israel’s Ben Gurion Airport, widely seen as a model for security, private companies trained by the national security agency use bomb-detectors, profile passengers and question travellers under the watch of police at the airport’s entrance. That approach has its limitations and may just shift the target to another location at the airport, experts have said.