Westfield State University Swim Team’s frightening experience at Fort Lauderdale Airport

Six swim team members landed at the airport just after the shootings occurred, and they are still down in Florida.

FORT LAUDERDALE, FL (WWLP) – The shooting at Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood Airport in Florida made an impact on people across the nation including some of western Massachusetts’ own.

The Westfield State University Swim Team– which consists of 18 female athletes- were traveling to Florida for annual training and a visit to the Swimming Hall of Fame.

Six team members arrived at Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood Airport that fateful Friday, when police say 26-year-old Esteban Santiago shot and killed five people and wounded six others.

Kristen O’Leary, the Swim Team Captain, and a Senior at WSU, spoke over the phone about her experience. “All of a sudden after we grabbed our baggage there was a lot of chaos, people running, screaming you know run, hide he has a gun… So all of a sudden we didn’t really know what to do, we ended up running into a bathroom stall and hiding there until the swat team came in and ended up evacuating us from there.”

Another team mate two terminals down ended up locked in a closet with airport staff.  Two teammates were stuck inside a plane on the tarmac for several hours.  The coach had been on his way to pick up the rest of the team members after dropping off eleven others at a hotel.

Members of the Westfield State Swim Team, like all students on campus, learn about ways to deal with emergency situations. The school’s Athletic Director, Dick Lenfest says they’re able to carry that knowledge wherever they go, “In this day and age it’s really difficult to prepare for anything but you want your students to be able to be alert.” Lenfest told 22News he is proud of the students for staying calm, calling their parents quickly, and staying together.

O’Leary said, “You know we talked about it as a team and we’re all doing okay.”

The Swim team comes home on Monday.