Toronto

Mississauga family finally allowed out of Fort Lauderdale airport after hours in lockdown

Nicolas St-Pierre was heading home from vacation with his wife and two young children from Florida's Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport when the chaos erupted.

'My 5-year-old was clued in a little bit and asked if there was a bad man in the terminal'

Martine Grenier walks happily out of Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood airport after approximately nine harrowing hours holed up inside. (Nicolas St-Pierre/CBC)

Nicolas St-Pierre was heading home from vacation with his wife and two young children from Florida's Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport when someone in the terminal shouted: "Gun!"

The Mississauga man, his wife Martine Grenier and their children, ages two and five, were at Terminal 2, the heart of a mass shooting Friday, when people began screaming and scattered in all directions.

At first, he says, he thought perhaps there had been a medical incident or that a fight had broken out. 

"All of a sudden, someone yelled, 'Gun! Get out!'" St-Pierre told CBC Toronto from the terminal.

Then, within seconds, came the stampede — hundreds of people rushing toward St-Pierre and his family, trying to flee the airport through three doors.

St-Pierre decided to stay back a few moments so as not to get caught up in the rush.

"While I was still in the terminal, there was a lady by the gate door screaming that her kid was still in the bathroom, which was very close to where the incident happened," he said. "My five-year-old was clued in a little bit and asked if there was a bad man in the terminal."

Witness video shows terrifying moments inside one of Fort Lauderdale's airport terminals. 1:37

Moments later, St-Pierre says, officers from the Broward County Sheriff's Office rushed in from the baggage area with guns drawn. With the terminal cleared, St-Pierre and others rushed out onto the tarmac.

Trying to remain light-hearted

It was only when he went on his phone to check the news that he learned what had happened.

Five people were killed and eight others were injured after a shooter opened fire in the baggage claim area of the airport terminal before being arrested, the Associated Press reported. 

Within half an hour of being outside, St-Pierre says he and the others were escorted back into the crowded but quiet terminal and placed in lockdown. 

They were holed up there for about nine hours together with what he estimates to be about 300 to 400 others, many from Montreal and the Toronto area.

The St-Pierre family from Mississauga managed to make their way onto the tarmac after a mass shooting led to chaos on their way home from Florida. (Nicolas St-Pierrre)

"Everybody's sort of trying to make light-hearted comments about it but we're all really hoping to get home eventually," he said while they waited in the terminal. 

Few details were given to those inside, he said.

'Very tired, but otherwise okay'

"There [was] little communication other than to tell us that [all] the other terminals have been evacuated but ours, given that the incident took place here," St-Pierre said. 

Airport officials came on the intercom system periodically only to tell those inside they were still in lockdown and to stay in place.

Around 9:30 p.m., came the good news.

The family was allowed out of the airport and put on a transfer bus to Port Everglades, about 10 minutes away. In even better news, they managed to rebook their flight home from Fort Myers tomorrow.

In the meantime, they're just grateful to be safe.

"[We're] very tired, but otherwise okay."

Martine St-Pierre is pictured here in this photo taken by her husband, Nicolas, as the Mississauga family waits to be allowed to exit the terminal where shots rang out Friday. (Nicolas St-Pierre)

With files from Shannon Martin