The worst hour

I like to tell stories. This story however is one that I did not want to tell. It has been three nights since our incident and each night I lie in bed and the story runs through my memories. It is on a loop. I am hoping by writing it down I can stop this from happening. Hopefully having it recorded elsewhere I can let it go. 

On Sunday the 14th of August my children and I departed from Lisbon. We were up at 6:30am and on the road by 7. My husband had found us a budget carrier, Norwegian Air, to get us home. We saved over 1,000$00 on the three flights, but it meant having to fly through Copenhagen. By the time we arrived at JFK we had been traveling all day. When the pilot came on to tell us that there had been lightening and therefore there was a cue of 15 airplanes ahead of us all waiting for gates I knew we were in for at least an hour wait. A pain to be sure, but my kids know we don’t complain about such inconveniences as it is not worth it. The wait ended up taking 2 hours, but whatever. It’s like getting stuck in traffic. Be grateful you are in traffic, not the cause of it. 

While on the plane I tried a number of times to call my brother who was waiting to pick us up. My phone was not working. When I couldn’t figure out why, I asked the woman in the seat over if she was getting service. She wasn’t either. A pain, but what could we do. Now I know that our service was likely being blocked so that we would not know what was happening at the airport. 

As soon as we got off the plane and around the corner from the gate you could see the backup of people waiting to get down the hall. There was not a line just people crowding the hall all standing still. The moving carpets were stopped, but some people were being cheeky and trying to get ahead of this mob by walking down that narrow path. I tried to call Joe again to apologize, but I could not get through. I figured we had at least a couple hours wait before we even would get to the proper customs line downstairs. 

Evan had just commented on the cue jumpers and that this was not a line. I told him we were fine, we just needed to wait our turn. 

Just about then we heard a loud rumble. A look of confusion must have come over my face. But immediately after, the screaming started. What I can only describe as a wave of people started to turn back at as. Was there a bomb? Gas? Whatever it was, I knew what had happened in Nice, Boston, Sandy Hook, was now happening here. My immediate thought was to get my kids to safety as I feared they would be trampled. Especially Evan. As I turned I fell and when I got up I could only see Sophia. I looked down to make sure Evan was not on the floor. He was gone. No where to be seen. The panic to find him overcame me, but we had to get out of the way. People were still running past and I hoped with all my heart that he was ahead of us. We turned right into a hall. Sophia and I found a corner to hide and huddled. From what people were screaming it seemed that there was a shooter. It was incredible to think that we we might be dead in minutes. My poor baby girl. I stood there fearing for my daughter’s life, for my life and panicked that Evan was dead in that hallway. 

A minute later when it seemed that the madness had passed our hall we came back into he main hall. My greatest fear, that Evan lie there dead on the floor was relieved when we walked back out into the main hall. Thank God. He was not on the floor.  But where was he? Seconds later everyone yelled he was back. We were ushered back down the hall, but this time onto the Air Korea plane that was at that gate. 

Sophia and I walked the plane. Yelling Evan’s name. Hoping desperately that he was on the plane. No sooner did we walk the entire plane did the attendants yell for everyone to get off the plane. Was it a bomb? Was this a horrible plot? We ran off. As we emerged onto the main hall I wanted to turn right to look for Evan. Had he gone back towards our plane? But the belief was that the shooter was down that hall and police would not allow anyone to go that way. Sophia and I followed the crowd, yelling Evan’s name. It was horrible. Just as we rounded the stairs to head down to the customs area a man and his girlfriend said they would go back and look for Evan. They were kind, generous and willing to risk their lives for my boy. I would have too, but I could not leave Sophia or draw her deeper into risk. The security officer would not allow this and had to resort to yelling at the man to stand down and move. 

When we got downstairs there were people outside on the tarmac. Sophia and I walked out there between he luggage trains and asked everyone if they had seen Evan. Nothing. As we looked up there were windows along the building and there were two men sitting against the window with their hands up. Was Evan there? Did he go into that room? Had the shooter grabbed my son? Was he going to make some example of my beautiful boy? All these thoughts raced through my brain. I prayed for him to not be there. I prayed for him to be safe. But it felt wrong to only pray for Evan. I needed to pray for everyone’s safety. But that felt wrong too. I just wanted my boy safe. 

We found an officer. Officer Hernandez. He was amazing. He assured us that Evan was going to be found. I wanted him to add alive. I really just wanted that assurance, but I knew he could not give me that. As we walked back towards the building we came across a brother and sister who were also separated. Johnny was Sophia’s age, but he was a mess. I hugged him, assured him he would find his parents just like my boy would find me. I wanted to mother MY son, but at that moment I had to take care of him. Johnny and his sister went with the officer as Sophia and I went inside. 

At this time I called Stephen. My service was poor so I had to call Diane and tell her to call my husband back. Sophia and I were safe, but Evan was missing. All I can describe was that I was hollow. I was alive. Sophia was alive, but my son was no where to be found. We found another officer inside and asked for assistance. He placed us on the outside of the  customs line and told us to wait there watching anyone who might walk by. A couple of people trickled by, but we kept walking up and down the crowd asking for Evan. Asking people to ask for Evan. 

Then the yells to get down. Sophia and I ran towards each other. We hid behind a wall. A crying Italian girl at my side. Another sister covering her brother’s body. We all huddled together. I held the sister’s hand. And my Sophia told me she loved me. That she loved her father. Her brother. She, like I, thought this must be it. A swat team ran past. They ran just past where we were. One officer was near to us and I thought, we will be safe. We will be safe. 

After that incident we were allowed to go outside. We looked out again on the tarmac, but there was no sign of Evan. As we came back inside it seemed that the word was that there was no shooter. I wanted to believe that, but the panic was still reverberating through us and I did not have my son. 

When the upstairs was given the all clear I was allowed to go look for Evan. We walked up the stairs and my daughter who does not like speaking to strangers did what she had been doing for the past half hour and asked if the couple had seen her brother. They said yes. That he had just walked by with an officer. We turned and ran back downstairs. She saw him first. It was then that she lost it. Tears pouring down her face. We have never been more grateful. 


Sophia said that in that madness these two officers gave her assurance that her brother would be okay. For that, and their assistance I will be forever grateful. Thank you Officers Hernandez and Rodriguez. 


After a million hugs I asked Evan what had happened. It seems that Evan had run and run fast. He got himself back to our plane where an airline stewardess cared for him. She had allowed him to send me a message on FB, but I had not even looked on my phone other than to call Stephen, Jose and Diane. He said while they were on the plane a police officer came on board and told everyone to put their hands up. It seems there was a woman who didn’t. My poor baby thought she was going to be shot. 

I thanked the stewardess for her caring for my son. She said he had been very brave. He had. And so had Sophia. 

Upon seeing Ti Zé the tone turned to the positive. I think it is part from my brother where I get my positive attitude from. Our review of the events was that this was the all time worst hour of our lives, but we needed to think of the positive. We hope that since lightening does not strike twice that we will never have to relive any such event again. But I told my kids that if they are ever in any such situation I know, and they know what to do and they can handle themselves. They really were bloody brilliant. Evan was smart, cooperative and brave and Sophia was an incredible advocate for her brother. I need them to walk away taking the good out of this and leaving the horrible behind. But there is one thing I can not let go of. No child, absolutely no child at all should have to endure such horror. We really need to fix this world. 

Although there was no shooter, the panic and the fear was real. I am more than grateful that it was a non-event for the record books. But it has left a horrible scar in our hearts.

8 thoughts on “The worst hour

  1. Hi Tina,

    I’m really sorry to learn about your nightmare and extremely relieved that you’re all okay. Please give my love to Sophia and Evan. I hope you’ve been able to get some rest since you left the airport.


  2. What a nightmare! We are so glad you are re with you all safe and recovering form the ordeal. Our thoughts are with you and Stephen still in Portugal. Love you all.
    Mark and Carol.

  3. Cristina,
    Tears are welling in my eyes as I feel you to be like family. I’m so sorry you had to endure such a trauma. That is no way to be welcomed back to the USA.

    When you’re a bit more settled, you might want to contact Moms Demand Action. They are becoming a force to be reckoned with in this country.

    Sending you peace and love. Please give big hugs to your children. They probably don’t remember me, but I remember them and their sweet selves.


  4. I am so relieved that all ended well. i can truly empathize with you and hope that your anxiety will dissipate with time (as mine has when my babies are not with me).
    love to all and Thank God!

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