Annika Dean was waiting for her luggage at the Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport when she first heard the shots. As a gunman opened fire on the innocent people around her, the Florida mom was praying that she would survive for the sake of her children.
Then, a total stranger helped answer that prayer.
As the Miami Herald reports, Dean’s work as an elementary school teacher had included training for emergencies. But no amount of training could prepare her for being trapped in an open area with a gunman headed toward her. Her only option was to dive to the ground, so that’s exactly what she did. She told the Sun-Sentinel:
“I knew immediately what was happening. I knew it wasn’t a firecracker. I then looked and saw the shooter who was 30 or 40 feet away and walking toward us. There was no safe place for cover.”
As she lay on the ground with bullets flying overhead, Dean prayed. The mom of two told WPLG News 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 an unlikely guardian angel came to her aid. Seventy-year-old Tony Bartosiewicz, a retired electrician from Rochester, New York, had flown to Florida with his wife. His wife was in another part of the baggage claim, but there was a woman nearby who clearly needed his help.
Bartosiewicz shielded Dean with his body and, in four words, let her know that someone was looking out for her. Dean explained:
“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.”
Though Dean didn’t look up, she could hear the shots continue. It was only after the gunman was in custody that Bartosiewicz told her that the man had actually stood over them, shooting all the while.
Though several people around them were injured, some fatally, both Dean and Bartosiewicz were unharmed. Once the shooter was in police custody, Dean’s couldn’t wait to thank her ‘guardian angel.’ She told the Miami Herald:
“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.”
Dean admitted that she has been on edge ever since the shooting, but is determined not to live in fear.
While she may have been surprised by his heroism, Bartosieciz’s family was not. Though he is currently on a cruise and unavailable for comment, his daughter says that this kind of selfless act is typical of her dad.
“That’s the kind of person he is,” she said. “He would do something like this without thinking.”