ORLANDO, Fla. — A mentally distressed former Marine who pointed a fake handgun at police in the Orlando International Airport and shouted “kill me” said he wanted to speak to the president, according to an arrest affidavit released Wednesday.
Michael Wayne Pettigrew, 26, was arrested after the almost three-hour standoff that ended peacefully, with no shots fired Tuesday night. Police have called it an attempted “suicide by cop.”
Pettigrew faces a charge of aggravated assault on a firefighter and was forcibly committed for short-term mental health observation under what is commonly referred to as Florida’s “Baker Act.”
The episode started Tuesday night when Pettigrew approached a cashier at a taxi company in the airport and showed her what looked like a gun. Pettigrew gave his cellphone to the cashier and told her to call 911 because he wanted to bring the police and speak to the president, according to the affidavit.
Pettigrew pointed the fake gun at officers as they arrived at the rental car section of the airport, and also pointed the gun at himself. But no shots were fired and no one was hurt. One officer raised the muzzle of his rifle to get a clear view of Pettigrew but didn’t fire because passengers “were running everywhere,” the affidavit said.
“Passengers at this point were running in all directions, making it a little chaotic,” the report said.
Part of the airport was temporarily evacuated and traffic going into the airport was halted for a short time.
The responding officers tried to talk to Pettigrew for a half hour until SWAT team members and police negotiators arrived.
“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 Tuesday night.
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 officers 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, a gunman killed five people inside a baggage claim area at the Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport. Esteban Santiago, a 27-year-old Iraq war veteran from Alaska, has pleaded not guilty to a 22-count indictment in the Jan. 6 shooting. Santiago’s attorney has said he is taking drugs to combat schizophrenia and schizoaffective disorder.
The Tuesday 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 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.