FORT LAUDERDALE (CBSMiami) — There were countless hugs and a river of tears Friday as hundreds of Fort Lauderdale -Hollywood International Airport employees held a ceremony of reflection, seven days after a gunman opened fire, killing five people and wounding six.
At 12:40 p.m., Broward Mayor Barbara Sharief, joined by other local leaders and dozens of airport employees, gathered at Terminal 2’s baggage claim area for a moment of reflection. At 12:54 p.m., they held a moment of silence – the same time the gunman opened fire a week before.
“Grieve. Allow yourselves to grieve deeply for all you have seen and experienced,” Elder John Brush of the Broward Church of Christ told the gathering.
There was no shortage of grief.
TSA Agent William White hurried many passengers out of the baggage area where the shooting was occurring.
“I just don’t know how to describe it,” White said before breaking down, sobbing.
“I can’t put it into words, I really can’t,” said airport employee Scott Meister, his eyes red, filled with tears. “I just keep thinking about those poor people.”
Five white flowers sat on a white-clothed table in the terminal representing the five victims killed in the shooting.
Deputies say last Friday, Esteban Santiago, 26, pulled a gun out and began shooting at travelers in a baggage claim area of Terminal 2. A week later, Sharief and airport employees returned to the same area to remember the victims.
“For many of us this is our second home, for many of us …this is our first home,” said Fort Lauderdale Aviation Director Mark Gale. “Today’s ceremony is meant to provide an opportunity for all of us to mourn to grieve to remember those injured…It’s meant to bring closure, if that can be done, to each of us.”
Mayor Sharief called on the community to come together to grieve and heal.
“It is hard to fathom that it has been one week since this event has occurred. I know that I have shed my fair share of tears as you others have as well,” said Sharief. “I also know that this has changed your lives forever and that is why we stand here in solidarity today.”
While remembering the victims killed in the shooting, she read out their names then asked those in attendance to work on healing from the tragic event.
“We cannot let this horrendous event change who we are,” said Sharief. “This is a healing process that we begin together….Thank you from the bottom of our hearts for your bravery.”
She went on, “The world is watching you. Let’s show them how strong we could be.”
Brush was there to lend help to those grieving – acknowledging the pain of those caught in the chaos.
“One week ago today you experienced a tragedy that will forever be ingrained in your hearts and minds,” said Brush.
He advised those to grieve, remember the way that people and situations touched their lives, search for the hope and passion that will help them keep going and share with others because in helping others, you help yourself.
“It is okay not to be okay,” said Brush. “The only way out is to come together.”
Bob and Pam Rix flew in from Detroit Friday and paused to watch the entire memorial service.
“It’s unfathomable what this gentleman did, and how many lives he ruined. It just breaks our hearts,” Bob Rix said.
If there was grief and anger at the Friday service, there was also grace.
“Forgiveness is what is in my heart today,” said airport employee Steve Wiesner. “I try to put forgiveness in my heart every single day.”
There were, however, police with assault rifle’s and bomb sniffing dogs at the ceremony, along with bouquets of flowers and a torrent of pain to remind the gathering things will never really be quite the same.
Friday’s mass shooting also left thousands of travelers stranded at the airport for hours.
Meantime, the man accused of going on a shooting rampage at the airport appeared in a federal courtroom in Fort Lauderdale. Santiago faces airport violence and firearms charges. If he’s convicted, he could be facing the death penalty. He has been held without bail since his arrest after the shooting.
Santiago told investigators that he planned the attack, buying a one-way ticket to the Fort Lauderdale airport, a federal complaint said.
“We have not identified any triggers that would have caused this attack. We’re pursuing all angles on what prompted him to carry out this horrific attack,” FBI Agent George Piro said. At last check, investigators were combing through social media and other information to determine Santiago’s motive.
Following Friday’s ceremony, the baggage claim where the tragic shooting took place was reopened after crews replaced the carpet and tile.