A former Marine who was armed with a fake gun attempted a “suicide by cop” Tuesday night during a nearly three-hour standoff with police at the Orlando International Airport, authorities said.
No one was hurt and no shots were ever fired, but the standoff caused confusion and anxiety among travelers who were uncertain about what was going on. Part of the airport was evacuated as hundreds of officers stormed the area, some with their guns drawn.
Michael Wayne Pettigrew, 26, was in “mental distress” when police surrounded him at the rental car area of the airport, authorities said. He pointed what looked like a real gun at officers and himself, authorities said.
“Our negotiators did a phenomenal job of talking with the subject for about two hours and finally got him to peacefully surrender,” Orlando Police Chief John Mina said.
He was being held for a mental evaluation and faces aggravated assault charges.
Glorializ Colón Plaza, 20, told the Orlando Sentinel she was just getting off work from Virgin Atlantic airlines when she saw everyone hiding. She got off the elevator and saw the man on the floor near the rental car area. He was screaming, and cops had surrounded him.
“I couldn’t make out the words, but he was screaming really loud,” she said. “Everyone there told me right before this happened a man said to everyone: ‘You’re going to need mental therapy after this,’ then he pulled out a gun and everyone ran.”
Plaza said she didn’t hear any gunshots or see anyone injured.
“I saw all the cops with the long rifles and started shaking,” she said. “It didn’t seem real.”
Earlier this year, authorities say an Alaska man killed five people inside a baggage claim area at the Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport.
The incident at the Orlando airport was first reported about 7:24 p.m. Terminal A was eventually closed, but the other side of the airport, Terminal B, remained open during the standoff.
Greater Orlando Aviation Authority Chairman Frank Kruppenbacher praised the response of both law enforcement and airport employees.
“Our employees did everything in accordance with what OPD has trained them to do,” Kruppenbacher said. “You couldn’t have a better resolution. No one was hurt. The airport continued to operate on the other side.”
Some flights were delayed during the ordeal, but airport operations were returning to normal late Tuesday night.
Images posted on social media showed a heavy police presence in the area and passengers were worried about their safety and missing flights. At one point, the Florida Highway Patrol tweeted that all roads to the airport were shut down, with “zero exceptions.” Orlando police later said the entrances were open but congested.