FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. – In the middle of a violent frenzy Friday afternoon at Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport, after a gunman opened fire at a baggage claim terminal, Canadian traveler Kim Lariviere left behind a family member.
Rufus, in his red hooded jumper, stayed behind at his seat near Gate D8, where the Canadian family – on their way home from a weeklong cruise vacation aboard the MSC Divina out of Port Everglades – was waiting to board a Delta Air Lines flight to Detroit.
Keeping him company were the Lariviere’s two teal book bags, open and spilling over; abandoned water bottles and bags abandoned by other travelers after shots rang out.
Now, Lariviere is on a mission to be reunited with Rufus, the chocolate teddy bear that her father gave her 10-year-old daughter, Courtney, before he died.
“Rufus has never been apart from my daughter and unfortunately she wasn’t able to grab him as we ran out. She hasn’t slept in three nights. She has barely eaten,” Lariviere said. “And I think he’s probably the most important thing we need back right now.”
Lariviere, her husband and two daughters were on the second floor of Terminal 2 when suspected shooter Esteban Santiago, a 26-year-old military veteran, shot 11 passengers Friday, killing five.
They ducked under chairs, with Lariviere and her husband using their bodies to shield their elementary school-age daughters. The family ran outside onto the tarmac and returned to the terminal after an all-clear was given, where they took a cellphone photo of Rufus and the wreckage.
But in the craze of the shooting, Lariviere and her family were sent running again when rumors of other shooters swirled through the airport. Though that proved untrue, Rufus and countless other items, including the cameras with the photos of their trip, were left behind.
They are among 23,000 items that the airport is trying to reunite with their owners. An unidentified contractor is helping Fort Lauderdale airport sort through an unprecedented number of lost baggage at a hangar in a secured area of the airport, said airport spokesman Greg Meyer.
Between the airlines and the airport, “thousands” of lost pieces have been returned to their owners, Meyer said Monday afternoon. But thousands remain, including small items such as keys, sunglasses, jackets and even shoes that were left behind at the time of the incident.
In the coming days, the airport expects to launch a website with images of the unclaimed items. Passengers who filed a claim for a lost item will be given a password that will grant them access to the website.
For now, passengers are asked to call (866) 435-9355 to file a claim for a missing item.
Lariviere said she’s been calling the number nonstop with no luck. She went back to the terminal after the shooting and left a message in hope of finding Rufus: “Looking for Rufus red hooded Teddy bear,” she wrote on a slim white piece of paper with her phone number. No one has called.
The airport said passengers will be notified when their items are identified.
By Monday, the airport had returned almost back to normal. The Delta baggage check-in line on the second floor of Terminal 2 was 100 people deep in the morning but tapered off in the afternoon.
Downstairs on the arrivals level, the area where the shooting occurred was closed off with black curtain. Nearby, Monday’s passengers collected their baggage at a working carousel.
Virginia Tech students Chase Ferrell and Tim Thomas, both 20, bowed their heads and prayed in front of the black curtains. The two were part of a group on its way to Haiti for a Christian mission trip Sunday. But the flight was canceled, and maybe for the best, Ferrell said.
“We were supposed to stay at this airport for a really good reason,” Ferrell said. He and Thomas spent most of the afternoon Sunday talking to passengers and workers and offering words of support.
Across from the black curtains, on the other side of the terminal, a small area had been set up with bags carrying Delta tags. Sergio Serrano, who was at the airport Friday during the shooting to board a Delta flight back to Spain, found his bag among them.
Like Lariviere, Serrano was sitting at the terminal Friday, ready to board a flight Atlanta, when the shooting occurred.
When he ran for cover, he left behind his carry-on luggage, a navy rolling bag. In it were his travel documents. He’s since been able to get a temporary travel ID from the Spanish Consulate, but his bag remained lost.
Until Monday afternoon. He walked out of the terminal Monday afternoon, rolling bag behind him and sat down at a nearby bench.
His lip quivered.
“Everything is back to normal now,” he said.
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