"My Husband's Dead, Isn't He?"

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Shortly after Rigoberto Alpizar rushed through the airline cabin clutching a backpack, passenger Mike Beshears saw a man in a Hawaiian shirt bolt out of his First Class seat. The man, who turned out to be a federal air marshal, followed Alpizar toward the jetway. Beshears heard yelling and then a series of shots.

"I could not make out what the words were," Beshears told TIME. But shortly after that he heard five or six shots. "It was crack-crack, then crack-crack-crack-crack," he says. His Air Force training and experience as a hunter led him to believe it was a .9 mm-caliber handgun. "It didn't take a second for me to realize it was gunfire."

According to Beshears, a 48-year-old IT project manager from the Orlando suburb of Winter Garden, the incident began shortly before the last passengers had taken their seats. Alpizar ran up the aisle, barreling into them. "He had a bag clutched to his chest and his head looked as if his left cheek was resting on the bag," Beshears says. "There were a couple of passengers trying to get back into Coach. There were one or two more passengers trying to take their seats in Coach. He pushed them almost into First Class."

At first Alpizar's wife, Anne, followed him, but then she returned to the back of the airplane to retrieve her carry-on luggage, he says. "She was visibly upset," he says. "She said 'My husband is sick. I've got to get my bags.'"

From his seat in the first row of Coach, Beshears assumed that Alpizar and the marshal were on the jetway, but could not see to the entrance of the plane, which was at a right angle to the main aisle. When he saw the crew running back to the Coach section, Beshears assumed the worst. He was in an exit row and began fumbling to open the emergency door. "I was reaching for the arming device and then somebody said, 'No, get back down. Now!'" Beshears got down on the floor.

When Alpizar's wife heard the shots, she started running to the front of the airplane, but the flight attendants intercepted her, he says. "She wanted to run to the jetway bridge," he says. "We knew there were shots and her husband was out there. The airline attendant did a great job. She just spoke to her."

Alpizar's wife explained that she persuaded her husband to take the flight. "'He didn't want to get on the plane,'" Beshears says she told everyone in earshot. "'It's all my fault. He's sick. He's bipolar. He didn't' take his medicine.'"

She attempted to persuade the flight attendants to let her go to her husband. "'I want to talk to him,'" Beshears recalls her saying. "'I want to let him know I love him.' Then she made a remark, 'My husband's dead, isn't he?'"

Although no one answered her question, she appeared to know the answer. "When she made that remark, she was very upset," he says. "The flight attendant was well-trained. She just talked to her to keep her from going totally hysterical."

Within the next five to ten minutes, several Miami-Dade police officers converged on the plane. When the flight attendants told them she was the victim's wife, they escorted her off the aircraft, he says.

"Then the SWAT team came on," he says. "These men are serious. They came in methodically. They said, 'Hands on your heads and don't move.' There were machine guns and shot guns everywhere. They let you know they were going to use them."

Because they evacuated the airplane from the back Beshears was among the last to deplane. All the passengers exited the plane with their hands on their heads, even as they walked down the metal steps to the tarmac, he says. Bomb-sniffing dogs greeted them on the ground.

"One German shepherd and two other mixed-breed dogs were there," he says. "The German shepherd seemed to be the dog checking out every passenger. We had to leave everything. We came out with our hands on our heads, no luggage, nothing. If you weren't wearing it, you left it."

Once they passed the dogs, the passengers went through a pat-down search. Then the passengers boarded a bus that took them to another concourse, where an FBI agent and a Miami-Dade homicide detective questioned them individually, he says. The final step in the process involved giving a sworn statement, which was taken down by stenographer.

Beshears concluded that he feels bad for all parties involved—the Alpizar family and the air marshals. "They're in my prayers today," he says. "That family has suffered. The air marshals themselves are in my prayers because the duty they had to carry out was not one that everyone has to do."

You can't blame the air marshals for what happened, he says. "When the air marshal left the plane, I didn't see a crystal ball in his hand to say what this guy's mental condition was," he says. And it's not Alpizar's fault either, he says. "I firmly believe that if that man had the mental capacity to stop and surrender his bag and cooperate, he'd be alive today."