Five Duquesne swimmers recount Fort Lauderdale airport shooting

Kaye Burnet |Editor-in-ChiefTwo Duquesne swimmers embrace after a press conference Jan 10, five days after the Fort Lauderdale airport shooting.

Kaye Burnet | Editor-in-Chief
Two Duquesne swimmers embrace after a press conference Jan 10, five days after the Fort Lauderdale airport shooting.

Brandon Addeo | News Editor

Senior Duquesne swimmer Hallie McCue was facing a window in the Fort Lauderdale airport awaiting her flight home when she first heard the gunshots.

“There was a pack of people running — I can’t even describe their faces,” McCue said.

On Jan. 6, Esteban Santiago, 26, of New Jersey, shot and killed 5 people at the Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. Five members of Duquesne’s Women Swimming team were at the airport when Santiago opened fire — though none were physically harmed.

McCue and two of her teammates, freshman Lauren Devorace and junior Michelle Heim, were waiting for flights back to their hometowns in the airport’s Terminal 2 when the shooter began firing nearby.

The team competed in a winter training competition Jan. 3 in Key Largo, Florida, according to Head Coach David Sheets.

When the gunfire began, the three student-athletes in Terminal 2 were separated.

Heim described a “mob of people … running and screaming.”

“It was so surreal,” she said.

Heim said she did not know why everyone was fleeing, but ran immediately to an emergency exit.

“When I pushed it, the alarm went off, but the door wouldn’t open,” Heim recalled.

The panicked crowd behind her tried to force their way through the door, pinning her against it.

“There were people climbing on top of me, people were being pushed,” Heim said.

The door was eventually forced open and they ran onto the tarmac.

Meanwhile, McCue and those around her dove to the ground for cover when the shots rang out.

“I had someone on top of me, holding my head down,” she said. “That’s when I saw the girl.”

McCue spotted a nearby girl she guessed to be about 10 years old “screaming and crying” on the ground with no parent in sight.

“I told her, ‘We’re going to be ok, we will get out,’” McCue recounted.

Devorace had left to get food when the shooter opened fire. She hid behind a bar, and after McCue and Sheets tried unsuccessfully to call her, Devorace sent a text confirming she was safe.

McCue made her way out to the tarmac, where she found Heim and the little girl’s mother.

When McCue and Heim reunited, McCue cried, but Heim said she managed to stay calm throughout the whole ordeal.

“It kind of hits you afterward,” Heim said. “I didn’t cry at all while everything was going on.”

When news of the shooting emerged, Sheets and senior team member Lilly Nelson drove to the airport to pick up the three girls. They found Devorace first, but heavy traffic at the airport forced the pair to search on foot for Heim and McCue.

When Nelson saw McCue’s red sweatshirt in the crowd, she ran to embrace her.

“I just hugged her so tight, and we just cried,” Nelson said.

The team stayed the night in Fort Lauderdale the night of the shooting. The next day, Saturday Jan. 7, the team unsuccessfully tried to recover luggage from the airport, according to Sheets. The team flew home on Sunday through Tampa.

Sheets thanked Duquesne’s athletics department, who helped arrange transport for the team after the shooting.

“[Athletics Director] Dave Harper made sure any resources we needed were all taken care of,” he said. “[Athletics] did a fabulous job of working with us.”

Sheets said his team is trying to come to terms with what happened.

“We’re working through this as a team,” he said. “Our ladies are very strong.”

Duquesne swimming’s next meet is against St. Francis this Saturday, Jan. 14, at the Towers Pool.

Kaye Burnet contributed reporting.

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