An Australian journalist who narrowly escaped last month’s deadly shooting at a Florida airport has detailed his terrifying ordeal for the first time, describing how he formed a luggage barricade to protect other passengers including his wife.
Former Army reservist James Drew and his American partner Lori Ostrow had just stepped into the Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International terminal on January 6 when a lone gunman began firing at passengers.
“We just hear these two big thuds and knowing that it was a shooting everybody freaked out and everybody started running,” Mr Drew told the ABC from his home in Alexandria, Virginia.
Mr Drew and Ms Ostrow had been on their way to a family wedding and cruise holiday when the gunman began targeting random travellers.
“I was very scared for my life,” Ms Ostrow recalled.
“I had no idea what was going on, but luckily my husband got into fight-or-flight mode and grabbed all of our luggage and secured a barricade to protect me.”
While the shootings continued just metres away, Mr Drew said he was able to form a barrier inside the terminal using suitcases, which he placed in an area between two concrete blocks.
“I figure if there’s a bullet or even a ricocheting bullet we’re better off if it goes through a couple of bags than it just hitting us directly.”
Mr Drew recalls other nearby passengers also managed to join him and his wife as they sheltered low to the ground behind the luggage barrier.
“A woman straight away grabbed my wife and started praying and I’m not a religious person at all, but that was a really calming moment,” he said.
By the time the airport shootings had finished, five people were dead.
A federal grand jury has now indicted the alleged killer Esteban Ruiz Santiago on 22 counts.
If found guilty, the 26-year-old Army veteran could face the death penalty.
Despite being caught up in the incident, Mr Drew says he is not opposed to the Constitutional right of Americans to carry guns.
“I’ve been in America long enough to know there is a different culture and there is a different feeling towards guns here. Guns are a symbol of the rights of the citizen,” he said.
However, the Australian journalist insists he will not be buying a gun in the country he now calls home.
“You’re almost numb to it now seeing these mass shootings happening in the US, so we knew it was a fact of life, but you always go around thinking your chances of being in a situation like that are very minimal.”