FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. — An elderly man from New York State is being lauded as a hero after shielding a mother of two during last week’s shooting at the Fort Lauderdale International Airport that killed five.
According to reports, Tony Bartosiewicz, 70, of Rochester, New York, had just called his daughter approximately 10 minutes before the shooting to let her know that all was well.
But suddenly, gunshots rang out as shooter Esteban Santiago carried out his senseless act on travelers just 30 feet away from where Bartosiewicz was standing. Many dropped to the floor to hide, including Annika Dean, 42 and a mother of two.
“There was no way I could have escaped,” Dean told reporters. “I would have been right in his path if I had tried to evacuate through the doors.”
She began to pray that God would spare her life and not leave her two sons, ages 13 and 11, without a mother. That’s when Dean felt Bartosiewicz cover her body to protect her life with his own.
“I was begging God to save me, and that’s when the man shielded me,” Dean recalled to the Sun-Sentinel. “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.”
When police arrived and it seemed safe to stand to their feet, the two rose from the floor.
“The first thing I said to him was I thanked him and told him that it was terrifying and [that] what he did brought me comfort—that it was just so comforting,” Dean remembered. “I thanked him throughout the day and told him he was a hero.”
Bartosiewicz’s daughter, Jenny Miller, said that her father was “was really shaken up and could barely speak” following the incident, but she was not surprised that he had selflessly given of himself to save another.
“He’s always been very selfless,” Miller told the Miami Herald. “He always tries to find the positive in things. He’s always been a very amazing guy.”
She said that she didn’t even know about her father’s act of bravery until later when Dean contacted her brother on Facebook. Miller then called her father, who did not want to talk about what he had just experienced.
Gunman Esteban Santiago, 26, now faces the possibility of being sentenced to death. After serving in Iraq, reports state, he began to act strangely, asserting that he was hearing voices or seeing things that were not there. Santiago also began selling his belongings, and went to the FBI in November to contend that his mind was being controlled by the government. His gun was confiscated for a time in light of the incident, but was returned in December following a mental health evaluation.