The Rev. John Schlicher lay on the ground praying, thinking he and his family would die at the hands of a gunman who killed five people around him at the Fort Lauderdale, Florida airport.
“Even in the midst of evil, there was peace — a peace I can only attribute to God,” the United Methodist pastor said, his voice shaking. “Only by the grace of God, I am still here. Michelle is still here. Jane is still here. We are so grateful but so heartbroken.”
The pastor of St. Andrew United Methodist Church in Beavercreek, Ohio, had flown to Fort Lauderdale on Jan. 6 with his wife, Michelle, and his mother-in-law, Jane. The three were headed for a long-awaited cruise.
Schlicher told the West Ohio Conference that the family was in the baggage claim area at the Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport when he heard a shot and heard people screaming, “Get down, get down.”
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Schlicher hit the ground and called 911. Separated from his family, he started to pray.
"We thought we were going to die,” he said, as he watched the gunman fire on people around him. He said the gunman even reloaded.
When the shooting stopped, five were dead and six wounded. The gunman was identified as 26-year-old Esteban Santiago of Anchorage, Alaska, who served in Iraq with the National Guard but was demoted and discharged last year for unsatisfactory performance.
Schlicher's wife, Michelle, wrapped her mother’s sweater around an injured man’s head as survivors tried to help the wounded.
“We checked on the people around us, but they were gone,” Schlicher said.
West Ohio Area Bishop Gregory Palmer, who spoke with Schlicher at about 7:30 p.m. Jan. 6 while the family was still at the airport with other passengers, spoke of his gratitude for the actions of the pastor amid the tragedy.
"We grieve for the loss of life in the Ft. Lauderdale Airport shooting. Our hearts go out to all of those who have been wounded and traumatized physically, spiritually and emotionally,” he said. “We applaud the pastoral presence of the Reverend Schlicher and his family who in the face of the crisis extended themselves to help others."
As Schlicher and his family begin the healing process, he asks for prayers for everyone affected by this tragedy.
Panovec is the communications director for the West Ohio Conference. News media contact: Vicki Brown, Nashville, Tennessee, (615) 742-5470 or [email protected].