FORT LAUDERDALE, FLA.
When a gunman began his deadly rampage through the baggage claim area of the Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport, Annika Dean, a lifelong Latter-day Saint and a returned missionary, drew upon her training to stay alive.
The elementary school art teacher had gone through two “active shooter” trainings. The instruction she gleaned in those courses — tragic necessities in the aftermath of school shootings — helped her keep a clear mind during the Jan. 6 mayhem at the airport that left five people dead and six wounded.
But Sister Dean is quick to add that the school instruction was only one element of her training. From the time she was a little girl, she had been well trained in the protective power of prayer.
She knew God listens to His children.
The single mother had flown home from a vacation to Atlanta and was waiting for her bags when a lone gunman began firing indiscriminately.
“I saw that I could not access the exits without running right into the gunman’s path, so I ran behind a [cart], laid down on the ground and began to pray,” she told the Church News.
Amid the horror of the moment, her thoughts turned to her two sons — Austin, 13, and Brandon, 11. “I didn’t want them to not have a mother.”
As the gunman approached Annika’s hiding spot, a stranger dropped to the ground and shielded her body with his own.
“I will protect you,” he whispered.
Sister Dean said she knew in that instance that her prayer had been heard. She would survive the ordeal. Witnesses said the gunman walked past her.
It was over a few moments later. Airport police arrived, the shooting stopped and the suspect, 26-year-old Esteban Santiago, was arrested.
Still shaken, Sister Dean sought out her “guardian angel” — Tony Bartosiewicz, a silver-haired electrician from Rochester, New York.
“I thanked him,” said a grateful Sister Dean. “When he shielded me I felt comforted.”
Mr. Bartosiewicz, 70, and his wife, Jennifer Cleeton, left for a cruise shortly after the shooting and could not be contacted by reporters. But his daughter, Jenny Miller, told the Sun Sentinel that such selflessness defines her father.
“That’s the kind of person he is,” she said. “He would do something like this without thinking.”
Sister Dean has shared her appreciation for Mr. Bartosiewicz and her testimony of prayer in interviews with several national news networks. The Orem, Utah, native and Brigham Young University graduate has found additional strength from subsequent priesthood blessings and support from fellow members.
“It’s been unbelievable how many people have helped,” said Sister Dean, who was anxious to return to her classroom and a normal daily routine.
The LDS Church News is an official publication of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The publication's content supports the doctrines, principles and practices of the Church.