Airman describes shooting at Frankfurt airport
November 13, 2011
UPDATED: NOV. 14, 1:37 P.M. EST.
FRANKFURT, Germany — Staff Sgt. Kristoffer Schneider is mostly blind in his right eye, has headaches, seizures, vertigo and reduced sense of smell. He has nightmares and is afraid of going to sleep and afraid of the dark. Since being shot by a gunman who killed two of his fellow airmen and wounded another at Frankfurt Airport in March, he has to wear a helmet until surgeons replace the titanium plate in his skull to match the metal mesh and bolts holding the right side of his face together.
But the only time Schneider lost his composure when testifying in German court Monday on the consequences of being shot in the head by the suspect, Arid Uka, was when he was asked how his parents were coping.
“My father is, ah -- can I take a break?” he said, choking up.
Ten minutes later, he appeared back in the courtroom via video hook-up from Grand Forks Air Force Base in North Dakota.
“My father is extremely sad,” Schneider said. “He cries a lot, along with my mother. They’re just very sad.”
Schneider and the other injured airman, Senior Airman Edgar Veguilla, testified on the fifth court date for Uka, the 21-year-old Kosovo Albanian charged with two counts of murder and three counts of attempted murder in the March 2 shooting. Uka is accused of shooting the airmen as they boarded a bus that was to take them to Ramstein Air Base en route to deployment in Afghanistan.
Uka has confessed to the shootings in which Senior Airman Nicholas Alden, 25, and Airman 1st Class Zachary Cuddeback, 21, the bus driver, were killed and Schneider and Veguilla were wounded. When Uka pointed the gun at another airman, Staff Sgt. Trevor Brewer, 23, the gun jammed.
During Monday’s testimony, Schneider was not wearing the helmet most of the time. His head was shaved, the right side of it indented, because he said, “the right side of my skull is completely gone.”
Schneider testified that as they were loading their luggage on the bus, he heard the first shot outside the bus.
“I heard the words, ‘Allahu Akbar’ [Arabic for ‘God is Great’]. I also heard a bunch of screaming from outside the bus. I noticed a man walking toward the bus with a pistol in his hand. I wasn’t really sure what we should do. Once he made his way onto the bus, I saw him shoot the bus driver directly in the head. That’s when the individual turned on myself and the rest of the airmen.”
He said he felt a bullet pierce his hip.
“I was in a lot of pain,” he said. “I dove into the seat next to me, over Airman Veguilla, who was screaming in pain. The second bullet entered my head, which I did not feel.”
After the shooting stopped, Schneider said he wanted to get up and chase the man.
”I was extremely angry,” he said. But his teammates wouldn’t let him off the bus. They told him he’d been shot in the head, but he didn’t believe it until one of the other airmen took off his shirt and put it on his head.
“I noticed the blood running down my face, and I realized I’d been shot in the head,” Schneider said.
He also said his wife has “extreme anxiety” and flashbacks of him being in the hospital. His children have been affected, too, he said. “I’ve been taken away in a few ambulances, and they have extreme anxiety when I leave the house.”
Uka looked at the screen a couple of times as Schneider spoke, but for most of the three hours of testimony from the two airmen, he looked down at the table.
Attorney Marcus Traut, who is representing the wounded airmen, asked Schneider if he could recognize the man who shot him. Schneider said he wasn’t sure.
Traut asked if he would like to see him.
Schneider paused, then said, “yes.” The camera in the courtroom was moved to show Uka seated in his chair.
“That’s the man I remember,” Schneider said.
In earlier testimony, Veguilla, who appeared in court, said he heard two shots before the shooter turned the gun on him and shot him three times, in the jaw, right elbow and back. “As I got up, I saw my supervisor, Schneider, covered in blood,” Veguilla said.
Uka, who worked at an airport post office, was arrested as he was fleeing the scene. He confessed to the killings during his first court appearance in August, saying he was influenced by jihadist propaganda on the Internet. He said he wanted to prevent American servicemembers from going to Afghanistan, where he said he believed they would rape Muslim girls. He also told the court that what he did was wrong.
At the Oct. 24 hearing, Brewer testified that he saw “hate” in Uka’s eyes. Cuddeback’s father, Robert Cuddeback, who attended that hearing, said he did not believe Uka’s statement of remorse.
Cuddeback, the driver, was stationed at Ramstein Air Base. The other airmen had arrived from RAF Lakenheath in the United Kingdom.
A murder conviction in Germany carries a life sentence. But parole is possible after 15 years, and there is no sentence of “life without parole.”
The trial is scheduled to continue intermittently through January. The next trial date is scheduled for Dec. 5.
Stars and Stripes reporter Marcus Klöckner contributed to this story.