Coin conventions, especially the Florida United Numismatists convention, are
annual gatherings of collectors and professional numismatists sharing
mutual hobby interests.
They can be chaotic at times and very exciting, but generally not life-threatening.
Hobbyists don’t expect to be subject to repercussions from a
gunman’s fatal attacks, as they were Jan. 6 at the Fort Lauderdale/Hollywood International Airport,
where travelers met untold panic and terror as events unfolded.
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Some 10,000 people were affected, as the airport completely shut
down while heavily armed officers from multiple federal, state and
local law enforcement agencies converged on the scene, even after the
alleged shooter was taken into custody.
World spoke with four numismatists who were at the airport at
the time of the shooting and its aftermath — three who were in Delta Airlines’
Terminal 2 where the fatal shootings occurred in the baggage claim
area and one who was trying to return her rental car.
Here are their stories.
Beth Deisher, who retired in 2012 after 27 years as Coin
World editor, was talking with numismatist Patrick Heller shortly
before 1 p.m. as she waited to board a Delta Airlines plane at
Terminal 2 for her eventual return to Ohio via Detroit.
security agents came running through the gate area, telling everyone
to get down.
Shortly thereafter, additional authorities ran into the gate area,
announcing there was an active shooter and telling people to “run for
their lives,” Deisher said. Travelers were told to leave their
carry-on luggage and other belongings behind. To avoid the human
stampede, Deisher said she laid down in one of the four-seat,
bench-type seats, as Heller dropped to his knees while also shielding her.
The terminal floor rumbled as screaming travelers cascaded down a
jetway to a staircase and flowed out onto the tarmac. Some people fell
or were knocked to the ground, and some were injured when people
behind stepped on them, she said.
Deisher said her limited mobility, from a painful bone spur in her
back at the top of her spine, forced her to remain inside the
terminal, but she encouraged Heller to head down the jetway.
Deisher said she phoned her husband to inform him there was an
active shooter, but she was safe. It was the first of many texts she
would send to update her husband and others of her situation.
Shortly, a TSA officer found a wheelchair in the terminal for her to
use. Deisher said looking out the terminal window she saw thousands of
people who had evacuated Terminal 2 and surrounding terminals onto the tarmac.
Some people eventually were cleared to return to Terminal 2, but
soon thereafter, a false report of another shooter prompted an
announcement over the public address system to evacuate again.
Deisher and Heller were briefly reunited, but were separated again
as events unfolded and people were sent back outside.
Several hours would pass before buses arrived to transport the
nearly 10,000 people from four terminals to the Everglades Port
Authority, three miles away, since the airport was shuttered as a
“We were escorted to the buses by armed guards,” Deisher said. “The
second half of our harrowing experience lay ahead of us. We were
unaware that 10,000 people would be dumped out at the Port Authority
to fend for themselves and find transportation to a safe place.
“Throughout the eight-and-a-half-hour ordeal at the airport, I took
no pictures, opting instead to save battery power on my iPhone. That
decision proved crucial for surviving the remaining three hours it
would take to make it to safety.”
Heller, owner emeritus and communication officer for Liberty Coin
Service in Lansing, Mich., said that after the first announcement
to get out of the terminal, he and Tom Coulson, current owner and CEO
of Liberty Coin Service, headed down the jetway from the gate where
their flight was to originally depart.
Once on the tarmac, travelers stood between aircraft, or under them,
to get out of the sun. People were on cell phones seeking and
exchanging information about what was going on.
Heller said he sent group text messages to his wife and co-workers
to inform them that he and Coulson were safe. Heller said his wife
told him CNN was reporting details of the shootings and that she had
seen him and Coulson on their news reports.
“She was more terrified than I was,” Heller said.
Less than an hour after leaving the terminal, Heller and Coulson
returned inside the terminal after seeing others do so and met up
again with Deisher.
However, authorities ordered a complete evacuation of the terminal
and Heller said he, Coulson and Deisher headed out. Outside, he
regrouped with Coulson, but both became separated from Deisher.
By then, Heller said travelers from other terminals were now on the tarmac.
Heller said he and Coulson were among a group that moved between
Terminals 2 and 3 before being directed across the airport to the hangars.
“When I saw families out on the tarmac and walking across the
airport I could see the parents trying to keep their children calm,
with a high rate of success, at the same time they were trying to keep
themselves from freaking out,” Heller said. “You could tell in the way
the parents would look at each other when the children didn’t see.
“My wife said that between CNN and two local television stations she
saw me eight times and Tom a few times. She was probably the one most
worried that tragedy would befall us. She was really glad to see us home.”
Heller said he was in a group of approximately 500 people in one hangar.
“We tried to stay well inside the hangar, figuring we didn’t want to
be among those by the door who were closest to the terminals,” Heller
said. “What we were told was that the airport was considered an active
shooting site, so we would have to stay there until the whole airport
When, several hours later, buses arrived to transport passengers to
Port Everglades Authority, Heller said he and Coulson were able to
arrange transportation to an airport across the state in Fort Myers
after rescheduling their flight to the morning of Jan. 7.
Deisher had done the same thing.
Professional numismatist Laura Sperber and her business partner in
Numismatics, George Huang, were at the airport trying to return a
Sperber said she had driven within a few feet of a parking garage
when the vehicle was suddenly surrounded by law enforcement officers
from multiple agencies donned in tactical gear.
“They wouldn’t let us go any further,” Sperber said. “The response
from law enforcement was massive — FBI, ATF, U.S. Marshals, sheriff’s
deputies, even some from Florida’s Bureau of Wildlife.”
She said she had arrived at the airport close to 1:30 p.m., around
the time that a false report of the possibility of a second shooter
Sperber said she had entered the airport property on a road
different from the main entrance, to avoid traffic, only to be
confronted by what looked like an “army” of law enforcement officers
swarming the area, as FBI agents ordered her and Huang out of the car
at gunpoint and began searching the car.
“It was quite traumatic,” Sperber said.
Sperber said she and Huang were detained for several hours during
the vehicle search before they were allowed to leave in the rental vehicle.
Sperber said she ended up taking a flight back to New Jersey from
Palm Beach International Airport on Jan. 8.
Imhof’s experiences in Terminal 2 as the shootings began, and the
aftermath, are events that he’d rather soon forget.
“It was not a good day for me, but much worse for others,” said
Imhof, executive vice president for Heritage Auctions.
If one person from the four interviewed by Coin World could
be considered as being in the wrong place at the wrong time, Imhof
would be it.
Imhof was working his way through the TSA airport security
checkpoint when the sounds of gunfire erupted. Imhof said he was close
to the top of the escalators leading to and from the Baggage Claim
area for Terminal 2.
“I heard a bunch of snaps, but didn’t know where they were coming
from,” Imhof said. “Everyone was ordered on the floor. Panic and
pandemonium ensued. It was 10 to 15 minutes of sheer terror.”
Imhof says he doesn’t know if he’ll ever be able to forget the
panic-stricken looks on the faces of people looking for cover or the
“I wasn’t in the line of fire but still felt like I was in one of
those TV disaster movies,” Imhof said.
Imhof said he would not normally have been in that situation. In his
duties for Heritage, he usually handles details and oversight for
auctions involving U.S. coins, which were still being held at the FUN show.
However, Imhof said, he was asked to fly from FUN to New York City
to help with the world and ancient coin auctions to be held in
conjunction with the New York International Coin Convention, and his
flights were scheduled on Delta Airlines.
Normally, when working U.S. coin auctions, he travels on American,
which would have put him at a different terminal.
On Jan. 6, Imhof was delayed leaving the convention center to the
airport when his Uber transportation failed to show; he had then
called for a taxi back to the hotel before going to the airport to
Several hours passed, after the airport was locked down as a crime
scene, before Imhof would be able to leave the airport.
During that time, he met an 85-year-old woman who spoke broken
English and who had been on a cruise ship.
Imhof said he stayed with the woman throughout the ordeal until she
could be reunited with her granddaughter.
More 2017 FUN Coverage:
‘Great Beards on Coins’ exhibit
wins top award at FUN:
Sam Gelberd is the recipient of the Heritage Auctions Award for
Excellence in Numismatic for 2017 at FUN for “Great Beards on Coins.”
2017 Florida United Numismatists convention in
the record books:
The bourse floor of the Florida United Numismatists convention Jan.
5 to 8 in Fort Lauderdale was bustling with collector activity.