Two local families were at Fort Lauderdale airport when a gunman opened fire

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They had just enjoyed a much-anticipated cruise to the Bahamas, Turks and Caicos, and San Juan, Puerto Rico. Staci and Fabio Giske of Farmington Hills were making their way home with their three children, Ari, 11, Eitan, 10, and Talya, 8. They were traveling with good friends, Gina and Yuksel Erpardo, also of Farmington Hills, and their children, Jimmy, 10, and Deniz, 5, when the relaxing family vacation took an unexpected and terrifying turn.

A gunman opened fire at Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport Jan. 6, killing five people. The Giskes and Erpardos were caught up in the chaos as police and federal agents worked to catch the shooting suspect.

“We were sitting at the gate and suddenly there was a lot of commotion,” Staci says. “People were running and screaming for everyone to get down. Fabio grabbed Talya, I jumped on top of Eitan, and Ari ran under a chair. The TSA started screaming, ‘Run, run, run! There’s a shooter!’ and everybody ran.”

The Giske family: Staci and Fabio, with children, Eitan, 10, Ari, 11, and Talya, 8

The Giskes dropped all their luggage and personal belongings and headed down the jetway out onto the tarmac. (They lost everything along the way.) At some point, they were ushered back inside only to be caught up in another stampede during a false alarm when someone shouted something about a second shooter. This time, the family got separated. The children ran in different directions, and Staci and Fabio scrambled to locate everyone and bring the family back together.

“It was very scary,” Staci says. “There were purses, luggage, shoes, teddy bears, all kinds of items scattered all over the tarmac. It looked like a war zone.”

Thankfully, the couple located their children and their friends and attempted to keep everyone together through several more panicked stampedes. Eventually, they all ended up in a hangar where they waited hours for information and transportation off the airport grounds.

Authorities have arrested a suspect, identified as Esteban Santiago, 26, of Alaska. He faces a host of federal charges that carry the possibility of the death penalty. It has been reported that at one point authorities took his gun away and ordered a mental health evaluation, but the gun was later returned. That same gun, used in the airport shooting, was in his checked luggage.

“There’s no need to have guns,” Staci said. “I’m an attorney, I believe in the Constitution; but in our current, modern society, I don’t think this is what our founding fathers intended. Anybody can get a gun. You can’t bring 4 ounces of breast milk past security, but you can check a gun.

“This has given us a whole new appreciation for the IDF and the people of Israel,” she continued. “They live with this kind of fear and terror every day.”

At press time, both families were safe and en route back home. They communicated with friends and loved ones by posting messages on Facebook.

“We are exhausted — emotionally, mentally and physically,” Staci wrote. “We are working on keeping our kids calm.”

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