MORA, Minn. (KMSP) - Dennis Clayton still can’t believe how quickly it all unfolded Jan. 6 at the Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport.
Less than 90 seconds after a gunman opened fire, five people were dead and a half a dozen other were injured.
As seen in airport surveillance video, Clayton was just a few people behind the gunman, Esteban Santiago.
“I didn’t realize I was as close as I was,” Clayton told Fox 9.
The 80-year-old said it took him a moment to realize what was happening, but then he dove for cover under some chairs, taking a young woman down to the floor with him to protect.
He was terrified.
“You got a guy that’s been shooting and he’s coming towards you, you got to believe he’s looking for more targets,” Clayton said.
Adding to his fear, Clayton and his girlfriend, Vonnie Olson, had become separated in the baggage claim area. Olson also lay down on the ground, hugging a small dog that had come to her side in the chaos of the moment.
Clayton reports that Santiago made eye contact with Olson and pointed his gun in her direction, but ultimately chose not to shoot.
“[I] don’t know if he had sympathy for a grey-haired old lady, whether he was a dog lover or just changed his mind,” Clayton said. “[Vonnie] said, ‘I thought I was dead’.”
Clayton and Olson are both so grateful for their narrow escape and cherished every moment of their 10-day cruise to the Panama Canal.
They just returned home to Mora, Minnesota and plan on being in church for some prayers on Sunday.
“I think the man upstairs was looking after us,” Clayton said. “I’ve survived losing my wife, cancer and a barrage of bullets. I believe my faith in God kept me alive for some reason.”