A 10-year-old girl swept up in the chaos of last week's deadly airport shooting in Fort Lauderdale was comforted Tuesday by the return of a beloved stuffed animal that was lost in the aftermath.
Five people were killed and six more were injured in the shooting by suspect Esteban Santiago, 26, an Iraq War veteran who opened fire on travelers Jan. 6 at Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport.
Kim Lariviere was with her 10-year-old daughter, Courtney, in terminal 2 at gate D8 when pandemonium erupted during the shooting. Travelers abandoned approximately 20,000 items around the airport as they tried to flee to safety.
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During the scramble, Courtney left behind her favorite stuffed animal, a bear named Rufus.
After Lariviere tweeted to the Broward County Sheriff's Office asking for help in finding the bear, the police put the message out to the public.
On Tuesday, Lariviere was informed that airport officials had tracked down Rufus. They picked him up at the airport during the afternoon.
"(Courtney) will not fall asleep without him, so you can imagine that after the nightmare we lived through on Friday in terminal 2, it's been difficult for us,'' Lariviere told TODAY. "She is beyond happy."
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The family had been on a cruise and was waiting for a Delta flight to Detroit as part of their journey home to Windsor in Ontario, Canada, when the shooting occurred. They have remained stranded in Fort Lauderdale, where Courtney suffered through several sleepless nights.
Lariviere is saddened for the families and friends of those who were killed and injured, and also thankful to the authorities who reunited her daughter with her special bear.
The stuffed animal has particular meaning because Lariviere's father gave Rufus to Courtney 10 years ago when she was an infant, only months before his death.
"My daughter has never slept a night without him,'' she said. "Every flight, every water park, camping, slumber parties, everything. He is irreplaceable."
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