The Terrifying JFK Airport Shooting That Wasn’t
There was no “they.” There was not even a “he,” no armed person turning on a crowd. But what happened at JFK last night was, in every respect but the violence, a mass shooting. The fact that there was no attack at the center of it was both the weirdest and the scariest part — that an institution whose size and location and budget should make it a fortress, in a country that has spent 15 years focused compulsively on securing its airports, in a city with a terrifyingly competent anti-terror police unit, could be transformed into a scene of utter bedlam, stretching out from all eight terminals across the tarmac and onto the adjacent highways, by the whisper of a threat. Within minutes, the whole apparatus of the airport and its crowd-control mechanisms had collapsed into total disarray. When the thousands of us who had been racing away from shooters finally managed to catch our breath, long after midnight, the idea that the airport could ever manage a crowd, let alone a hysterical one, looked ridiculous. The fact that there had been, actually, nothing to panic about was an enormous relief, of course. But it made things all the more eerie the next morning, when we woke up feeling like survivors of a ghost trauma, a minor local-news story. For several hours, we were in the flood of panic and chaos of an ongoing act of terror. There’s no other way to describe it. That it was an overreaction almost doesn’t matter; in fact, that is how terrorism works.