The first week of 2017 didn’t quite prove to be full of moments that restore our faith in humanity, like many of us had been hoping for.
A 26-year-old gunman landed at the Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport in Florida, and opened fire at baggage claim. The incident left five tragically dead, and six others injured.
Annika Dean was waiting for her luggage when the gunman began shooting around her. “I knew immediately what was happening,” she explains. “I knew it wasn’t a firecracker.”
The Florida mother of two had received training for emergencies in her work as an elementary school teacher. But being trapped in an open area with a gunman only feet from her was something that no amount of training could prepare her for.
Facebook/Annika Lee Dean
With the shooter just 30 feet away from her, and no safe place to take cover, Annika immediately dropped to the ground and began praying—there was only one thing on her mind.
“I was praying specifically that my children would still have their mother. I was worried that they might not.”
That’s when 70-year-old Tony Bartosiewicz appeared to be the answer to Annika’s prayers. The retired electrician from Rochester, New York, had flown to Florida with his wife to set sail on a cruise. His wife was in another area of baggage claim when Tony saw a woman who needed his help.
Facebook/Annika Lee Dean
He shielded Annika with his body, and in just four words, let her know that she was going to be okay.
“He basically climbed on top of me and whispered, ‘I will protect you.’ I knew he might be a victim, but I also knew I would survive.”
Annika didn’t look up as the shooting continued, and it wasn’t until later when the gunman was in police custody that Tony told her the man had actually stood directly over them, all while continuing to shoot.
Five people around them lost their lives, and six others were severely injured, but both Annika and her guardian angel, Tony, were completely unharmed.
Her kids still had a mother, and Annika could not wait to thank the man who saved her life.
“The first thing I said to him was I thanked him and told him that it was terrifying and what he did brought me comfort, that it was just so comforting. I thanked him throughout the day and told him he was a hero.”
Tony and his wife took off on their cruise shortly after, but a comment from the couple’s daughter suggests this selfless act is typical of Tony Bartosiewicz.
“That’s the kind of person he is,” she said. “He would do something like this without thinking.”