When he first deplaned his flight from the western Turkish city of Izmir to Istanbul Tuesday night, Laurence Cameron didn’t notice anything out of the ordinary. But as the 29-year-old freelance journalist made his way through the terminal, he started seeing people running away from something.
"I thought it was a bomb scare at first," he told NBC News.
Next, he saw the terminal flooding with police, and it became clear the people running feared for their lives.
In what officials described as a coordinated terror attack, gunmen opened fire around 10:30 p.m. local time at the entrance of the international arrivals area at Ataturk International Airport. The shootout was followed by two explosions that led to the death of at least 36 people. Scores were injured in the attack.
Cameron described a chaotic scene as people ran through the terminal in search of a way out. When he noticed a man in a wheelchair who had been left behind and was struggling to advance, he said he pushed him down a hallway where the man was reunited with his family.
Police began funneling people out through the baggage claim area, where Cameron said the destruction was apparent. He started seeing lots of smoke, smashed walls and blood on the floor. People were crying. He said he took his camera out to take photos, but police argued with him.
"The police were physically shoving us out," Cameron said.
Outside, there was more blood on the ground and damage to the airport and nearby cars.
He said police then guided people toward a parking garage, from where they made their way out.
Cameron said he expects to be haunted by the images of people staring back into the smoke-filled terminal they had just escaped.
"People were looking back for the friends and family they had separated from," he said.