JFK Active Shooter Chaos: What a Vacationing Navy SEAL Did to Get Travelers to Safety
Brandon Webb is a former Navy SEAL and CEO of Force12 Media. He stepped off his plane last night at JFK Airport just as reports of an active shooter erupted. Here is an abbreviated first-hand account of the incident. Get the full story and pictures here.
“Shots fired, active shooter! Everyone run for safety, run!” the officers said last night as I deboarded Lufthansa flight 0404 from Frankfurt, Germany. I was waiting for my luggage, having just cleared customs and thought to myself, “WTF did I just step into?”
Let me rewind a bit.
I was in the first group off the plane with a business class ticket purchased with air miles. I started scanning my passport into the automated machine when the first alarm in Terminal 8 went up (I was in Terminal 1.) Officers said there was an active shooter loose and told us to go back into the ramp walkway area which most everyone did rather orderly. It was too few people to cause the panic that would come soon.
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I scanned two exit points, one would come with a jump and I was at least comforted that I had an out if needed. I let everyone know around me about the plan and they seemed a bit relieved that there at least was somewhat of a plan in place. Thankfully a uniformed officer came back and gave us the all clear, and back down the stairs into the passport area we went.
Five impatient minutes into the baggage carousel wait, at least half a dozen officers ran into the area with guns drawn, yelling, “Shots fired, active shooter, everyone run! Run for your lives!” As you can guess, this didn’t encourage an orderly departure.
Everyone waiting in the passport control area broke loose and ran. They burst through the alarmed security doors and onto the airplane ramp. I ran out onto the dark tarmac and felt relief -- it was instant relief -- because we all now had many options to escape and use cover. I was outside and went to speak with an officer to get a read on the situation. Nobody seemed to know anything and nobody was communicating anything to the passengers, which made for an even edgier situation. You could feel the electric panic in the air.
Ten minutes later I tried to argue with an officer against sending people back. Their idea was to herd the people back inside and off the ramp -- not good. We have a term in Special Ops, “Get the fuck off the X” and it’s for good reason. Running back towards the threat, into a confined space with little options for exit was not good. After a heated exchange with the officer (I was the last one outside), I went inside with him (my only regret of the night), up the stairs and into chaos.
A man was crying because he was separated from his wife and children, women and men were crying, babies and kids were in tears, people were hurt from being trampled and still nobody knew what was going on, or what to do. No communication from any official staff or uniformed officer.
At the top of the crowded stairwell, I yelled “Follow me” and out we went, down the stairs which exited onto the tarmac and under the baggage area. A group of us ran for cover again. We stopped behind a wall, and at this point, I could see the expressway and the taxi cab line of terminal one and all the onlookers. It was clear there was no immediate threat here, and I wanted to get the hell out of there, too many nervous people waving guns and no plan or communication. I was thinking assault rifles, explosives, no match for the officers with 9mm handguns.
I was confident that I was in charge of my own destiny at this point. I told a group I was with that we could climb the fence and get out of the area. I pulled my black North Face rain jacket out of my pack and threw it over the razor wire and encouraged a lady to go up first. She insisted I climb so she could watch how I did it. Up and over I went, tearing my pant leg with a few minor cuts, no problem. I then coached that little lady over, she was on top and got nervous, she cut herself and looked down at me, I said, “Do it, now,” and she did. She was a survivor for sure, so proud of her for confronting her fear and overcoming it. Hopefully, I can hug her one day. We helped a few more over, along with some waiting bystanders, and then some officers ran over to yell at us and broke up the fence exit.
I was in Manhattan 30 minutes later.