FORT LAUDERDALE-HOLLYWOOD INTERNATIONAL AIRPORT, FLA. (WSVN) - It’s just a teddy bear, but for a little girl, it means the world.
Amidst the chaos that unfolded in the immediate aftermath of the deadly shooting in the Fort Lauderdale airport, a little girl lost her beloved teddy bear, Rufus. But thanks to a little help from deputies, Rufus made his way back home.
“It’s exciting, and I’m happy to have him back,” said Courtney Gelinas.
Gelinas and her family were focused on surviving and left Rufus behind. “We were going to be boarding in probably 20 minutes, and a rush of people screaming for their lives came like a tsunami at us, and we threw our children under the seats, and we laid on top of them,” said Kim Lariviere, Gelinas’ mother.
Moments later, they made their way onto the tarmac, leaving all their belongings behind — before walking along the outer area of the airport — trying to make their way out. “We found a wonderful little rental car place to take us in, and they took lots of families in,” said Lariviere.
After a few days, the family began searching for Rufus. They said, since he was lost, Gelinas was having a rough time. “She threw up all over the hotel room floor, on Friday night, due to stress,” Lariviere, “everything we’d been through. She couldn’t sleep.”
A Twitter message sent to the Broward Sheriff’s Office implored for help to find the lost stuffed animal. Kim Lariviere tweeted, “Looking for Rufus from Terminal 2 D8. Crying daughter cannot sleep. #FLLshooting help!”
BSO re-tweeted the mom’s desperate plea, saying on the social media site, “Has anyone seen #Rufus? Help @klariviere3 find her daughter’s stuffed animal that was lost in the #FLLshooting.”
Panicked travelers were forced to leave behind more than 20,000 items in the airport as officials evacuated the airport during and after the shooting, which killed 5 people and wounded many others. A private company was contracted to collect the belongings in order to organize them, in an effort to return luggage and other personal items to their rightful owners.
Once word got out about Rufus, workers found the stuffed animal in the airport’s hangar, where all of the left behind items are being held. “There was something on the news last night, and then he was written about in a paper today,” said Greg Meyer of the Broward County Aviation Department. “I walked into the warehouse this morning just to check in, and I saw Rufus sitting on the table. I said, ‘That’s the most famous bear in the area. We need to get him home.”
Rufus holds sentimental value to Gelinas. “This teddy bear was given to Courtney 10 years ago, when my dad was dying, and he has not been apart from her one night,” said Lariviere, “so if she’s at a friend’s house and decides to spend the night, we have to shuttle Rufus to that house … This bear is a part of our family.”
Now that they have Rufus and some of their belongings back, their focus is paying their respects to the families who lost loved ones. “I pray, it could have been anybody down there,” Lariviere. “My deepest sorrow and condolences to those families who are home without their grandmas and their brothers and their uncles and their aunts.”
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