Duke Student Survives Brussels Airport Attacks

McSwain Forkoh, a first-year Master of Public Policy student at Duke, was in the Brussels Airport on March 22 when the deadly terrorist attacks occurred.

“If felt so grateful that I was able to survive, I was able to make it out unharmed,” Forkoh said.

The 27-year-old, on his way back from visiting family in Liberia, realized something was wrong when he saw a large group of people running in his direction.

“There were just too many folks, so I thought to myself, ‘Oh no, all these people are not missing their flight.’ Right then I heard a huge noise behind them, the airport security yelling to everybody, ‘Go to the back of the terminal, everybody go to the back of terminal.’”

Forkoh left his luggage and laptop and ran outside with the other passengers. He did not know what was going on until he got a BBC news alert on his cell phone saying the airport was under attack.

“So when I look on my phone, I was like, ‘Oh goodness, I’m in the middle of something serious going on,’” Forkoh recalled. “At that point, I really didn’t know what to think. I was just praying to God to make sure that I get out of there safely.”

As Forkoh waited with other survivors outside the terminal, he contacted his mom in the United States and other family in Liberia to inform them he was okay. 

“I had to get in touch with my mother. I did not want her to see the news before hearing from me because I know she would maybe pass out or something.”

Forkoh was taken to shelter with other passengers and eventually got a flight back to North Carolina. Professors and classmates at Duke welcomed him back with a poster expressing their relief for his safe return. Their gesture touched Forkoh.

“It means a whole lot to me and that’s something I’m never going to forget because it made me feel that, although I was out, there were folks here actually thinking about me.”

Only a few days after returning to campus, Forkoh is focused on his school work. He said keeping busy with his studies helps him from concentrating on what he endured with thousands of others.

“Every time I think about it, I think about people who lost their lives. And then I think, ‘Oh, that could have been me.’ Instead of focusing on that, I’d rather focus on what I need to do next to keep moving forward.”