Del Webb at Woodbridge resident Joyce and Carl Bowmar ended their western Caribbean Cruise Friday morning only to find themselves in the middle of an “active shooter” situation in Florida where five people were killed and eight injured.
Joyce – a Pink Lady at Doctors Hospital – said she and her husband got off a Princess Cruise ship at 7 a.m. They boarded a shuttle bus to the Fort Lauderdale Hollywood International Airport with expectations of getting into Sacramento that evening by 8:30. They were to have left for Dallas on a scheduled connecting flight shortly after 3 p.m.
They would not get home for more than 24 hours because the Florida airport was shut down due to the shootings. Their luggage with her diabetic medications did not arrive in Manteca until 1:47 a.m. Monday. She said she had taken one dose of her meds with her on the ship noting she always carried snacks because of her condition, but added she only had a small box of raisins in her purse and a package of peanut butter crackers after having breakfast aboard ship at 6 a.m. She had no evening or morning pills and couldn’t check her blood sugar, she added.
The couple could see freeway traffic backed up from the boarding gate area windows and police vehicles with their emergency lights flashing along with helicopters overhead. Their first thought was that it must have been a horrific traffic accident. Joyce said a woman sitting across from them at their gate went on her lap top and learned from her that there had been an active shooter at the baggage claim just one floor below.
After ordering passengers to get down in place, an airport staffer subsequently announced that they had to get out of the boarding area and opened one of the loading/deplaning tunnels and told them all to exit the building as they were escorted running to the tarmac areas.
People were frantic and in their haste knocked other passengers down – injuring several – as they ran out the tunnel toward the tarmac and beneath a loaded Porta Prince bound aircraft. At least one man had a heart attack. SWAT officers came running through the airport with their guns drawn. The Porta Prince plane was ordered to stage and its passengers had to remain on board for some seven hours, she noted. The only positive thing for them was that they had snacks and water onboard.
Joyce and her husband were “among thousands” of passengers who ran from the airport onto the tarmac under the protection of SWAT teams and airport officers. Some passengers were without their shoes, purses and wallets that had been placed on the conveyor belts in the security lines as they were being processed. Once outside they were again ordered down in place for their safety, she added.
There were no restrooms available for them and some were even forced to use flower beds for relief, Joyce noted, adding that the airport officials and police officers were “tight lipped” and wouldn’t tell them anything about what was happening. They were eventually escorted to a protective concrete parking garage, but SWAT officers still wouldn’t let anyone use restrooms located there either.
Eventually a few porta-potties were brought to the airport for the passengers’ use.
It was an awful situation because babies were crying from hunger and thirst and for having wet diapers and the masses were without water and frightened. When bottled water was finally delivered, it was limited to passengers close enough to get what handouts there were from airport staff.
In addition to the airport concourse passengers, there were 18 inbound planes waiting for a gate to unload passengers but were ordered to remain in place on the airport tarmac with their passengers onboard.
Eventually passengers were bused to the Port Everglades Convention Center by some 20 buses. There weren’t enough buses to take care of the sizeable crowd, Joyce added. The bus evacuation began at 9:30 p.m. – some 10 hours after the shootings. They didn’t get on one of those buses until 2:30 in the morning, she said.
After the Bowmars arrived at the convention center, they found all the chairs in the lobby and throughout the building were already occupied. A few people were lucky enough to have been given blankets, she recalled. Joyce and her husband opted to find a taxi instead for possible transportation to the Miami International Airport, hoping to get a flight home.
“Three flights later we got a flight to Dallas but it took three standby attempts to Dallas, Phoenix and Phoenix to Sacramento. I was never so happy to be on a plane that had just taken off,” she said.
“Not having eaten for some 24 hours, we stopped in Elk Grove and had dinner at the On the Border restaurant,” Joyce said.
In addition to currently being a Pink Lady at Doctors, Joyce served as a customer relations service agent for a computer business and her husband was employed as a guard at a hospital facility. It was their fourth ocean cruise.
She said the airport incident really clouded the memories of their cruise trip aboard ship.
To contact Glenn Kahl, email firstname.lastname@example.org.