You have reached your limit of free articles this month.

Enjoy unlimited access to myAJC.com

Starting at just 99¢ for 8 weeks.

GREAT REASONS TO SUBSCRIBE TODAY!

  • IN-DEPTH REPORTING
  • INTERACTIVE STORYTELLING
  • NEW TOPICS & COVERAGE
  • ePAPER
X

You have read of premium articles.

Get unlimited access to all of our breaking news, in-depth coverage and bonus content- exclusively for subscribers. Starting at just 99¢ for 8 weeks

X

Welcome to myAJC.com

This subscriber-only site gives you exclusive access to breaking news, in-depth coverage, exclusive interactives and bonus content.

You can read free articles of your choice a month that are only available on myAJC.com.

Atlanta man recounts attacks at Istanbul airport


Thomas Kemper had just fallen into a light sleep in a lounge at Ataturk Airport in Istanbul when he was jarred awake Tuesday night by the terrifying sounds of people screaming, shattering glass, shots and an “incredible” blast.

“It was very close. Very close. I thought, this must be a bomb, but it can’t be,” he said. “How can this be happening in the airport, but when you see people running, shouting and screaming, you know this is really serious.”

Kemper had arrived at the airport earlier on Turkish Airlines. He was supposed to have a layover there, then catch a flight to Tokyo, Japan, for a meeting. He had flown the Turkish airline because on the return leg he planned to stop in Europe, and it had the easier connection.

Officials said three terrorists armed with guns and bombs — two in the international terminal and one in the parking lot — killed at least 41 people Tuesday.

Stunned by what he was seeing, Kemper grabbed his shoes and other belongings and dashed out of the airport lounge. He started one way, before he was met by alarmed strangers who urged him to run the other way. People were falling over one another to get to safety.

“It was unbelievable,” said Kemper, general secretary of the General Board of Global Ministries of the United Methodist Church, which recently moved its headquarters to Atlanta from New York. “The first hour was the worst. You didn’t know what was happening. You’ve seen the images from Orlando and Paris. You think they’re coming after you.”

Kemper ran back in the lounge and took refuge in a storeroom in the kitchen. The door didn’t have a lock.

There was a Chinese man also in the room. The two hid behind some boxes. The other man didn’t speak English. Kemper didn’t speak Chinese, but it didn’t take a common language to know both were scared.

Kemper, who moved to the U.S. six years ago from Germany, said he felt a strange mixture of fear and calmness. He remembers thinking about his family. He wondered if he would see them again. In the end, he said, he knew it was in “God’s hands.”

He had been in some dicey situations, like during the war in Liberia. This, however, was different. It was so unexpected.

“I know Turkey had some risks, but I didn’t expect it to be in the lounge,” said Kemper, who wasn’t injured. “That space felt pretty safe.”

When Turkish officials arrived to escort people to safety, Kemper and others walked through the arrival area and saw glass on the floor.

Despite the attacks, things seemed surreal, he said. The airport was busy. There were hundreds of people. Some businesses were open. While still in the airport, he caught glimpses of the carnage on Turkish television.

He and others boarded a bus. He was with other travelers from Egypt, Somalia and Holland.

Kemper, who plans to return soon to Atlanta, said he began to think about his fellow passengers. Some of them lived through situations like this every day or had fled such violence. Later, when he was interviewed by Al Jazeera, he met crew members who told him that the kitchen had been the best place to hide. Crew members from Beirut said violence was a common occurrence where they lived.

He said the situation made him realize how much work needs to be done so that there are no more attacks like the one he survived.

“I know there’s a big debate about this in the United States, but from a mere Christian and personal perspective, we need to open our hearts and our houses to people of all faiths who suffer and have to flee and become refugees,” he said. “We can only survive together. We can’t win this by heaping more violence on this. It will not work.”


Reader Comments ...


Next Up in Local

South Georgia wildfire close to 100,000 acres
South Georgia wildfire close to 100,000 acres

The wildfire that started in southeast Georgia earlier this month has burned almost one-fourth of the Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge, officials said Saturday. Known as the West Mims Fire, the blaze now has torched 94,664 acres and is just 8 percent contained, according to a statement from the team that is battling the blaze. Waycross will be impacted...
Record high temperature possible Saturday
Record high temperature possible Saturday

Today: High: 87 Tonight: Low: 67 Tomorrow: High: 85 Better prepare for heat, metro Atlanta. Saturday’s temperature is expected to be near a record high. The forecast high of 87 is just 1 degree lower than the record for this date, Channel 2 meteorologist Brian Monahan said. And the forecast is also well above the average high temperature...
8-month-old gets liver transplant from godmother
8-month-old gets liver transplant from godmother

He’s known as “Finn the Mighty Warrior” on a Facebook page devoted to him, and this 8-month old fighter continues to battle against two rare liver conditions. >> Read more trending news But Finn O’Sullivan won’t have to fight alone. The infant, in need of a transplant, found a match — not from a relative...
At 100-day mark, gauging Trump’s impact on Georgia
At 100-day mark, gauging Trump’s impact on Georgia

President Donald Trump. Curtis Compton/AJC One hundred days into the tenure of the most mold-shattering administration in modern history and President Donald Trump has moved at breakneck pace to try and strip away federal regulations, reset the country’s economic relationships abroad and dismantle the biggest pieces of his predecessor’s...
Woman pulls gun, says barber took too long to give son haircut
Woman pulls gun, says barber took too long to give son haircut

An Ohio woman who believed a barber was taking too long to cut her son’s hair pulled a gun, telling the hairstylist that “I’ve got two clips,” WJW reported. >> Read more trending news According to Crime Stoppers of Cuyahoga County, the incident occurred April 14 at Allstate Barber College in Cleveland. While...
More Stories