Oconomowoc Family Survives Terrorist Attempt

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  • The Keepmans were bringing two adopted children home from Ethiopia. Video by wtmj.com

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MILWAUKEE - "I would just like to know how to get to Ethiopia by boat."

Patricia "Scotty" Keepman still has a sense of humor after the harrowing experience she, her husband, daughter and two new adopted children from Ethiopia had as a man tried to detonate an explosive device while their plane was getting ready to land in Detroit on Christmas Day.

Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab of Nigeria was charged Saturday in the Christmas Day attempt that only sparked a fire on the flight from Amsterdam.

"I honestly don't think I've had a chance to let it sink in, because having these children with us, we've just got to keep them grounded, and I'm just really focusing on the kids," said Patricia, who lives in Oconomowoc, on 620WTMJ's "Wisconsin's Morning News."

Audio: 
Patricia "Scotty" Keepman on 620WTMJ's "Wisconsin's Morning News"

They were sitting about 20 rows behind Abdulmutallab, in a center aisle with her husband and daughter a row ahead of her and their two new adopted children, a six-year-old girl and an eight-year-old boy.

Her daughter said that ahead of them was a man who videotaped the entire flight, including the attempted detonation.

"He sat up and videotaped the entire thing, very calmly," said Patricia. "We do know that the FBI is looking for him intensely. Since then, we've heard nothing about it."

"We heard what sounded like an electrical pop to me. Everybody looked above their seats, kind of like startled, panicked. Shortly thereafter, we heard the screams. We could not see what was going on. We were too far back. We heard shouting, and you could hear the mayhem happening.

At that point, two flight attendants ran at full speed to get fire extinguishers.

"Whatever they did, it all went on for what seemed like a long to me, but what was probably a very short time."

What Was Going On In Her Mind At That Time?

First: to convince her new children that everything was OK.

"No matter what happened, these kids would never know if we didn't make it. We wanted them to think this was a game," explained Patricia.

"They were very concerned when they saw the flight attendant. They were very withdrawn. So I told them that they were just being very funny and silly, and this is what they do on airplanes, since they'd never been on one, and we got them to giggle about it.

But then, the gravity of the situation came over the whole family.

"As the seriousness progressed, and we knew that this could possibly be it, my husband and daughter put their hand through their seats and we all held hands in a circle and sang 'Jesus Loves Me' and we prayed, and we just made it as much of a game as we could and make them completely innocent as to what was happening."

"The holding hands gave us a real sense of peace. If it happened that point, it would happen. We were ready. We just weren't ready for it to happen for the kids. We just kept thinking, 'God didn't bring us this far, to go through all of this, to shorten these kids' lives,' and sure enough, He didn't."

Once the flight attendants told everyone that the suspect was under control, and the fire was contained, Patricia said that most of the people handled the rest of the flight "fabulous."

"We all sat in our seats. We stayed calm, other than (hearing) crying. Shortly thereafter, the captain said they were making an emergency landing.

"They got us off faster than anything you've ever seen, and then they shuffled us off to a room where we spent quite a few hours. They were doing their very best. We were frustrated, because there was never water distributed. There was one bathroom for 300 people, and it was very hard because there were kids crying. Nobody knew what was going on. We were not allowed to call anybody."

Patricia also expressed anger toward the airline for how she feels they were treated after the flight.

"We're very frustrated with Delta because, once we finally got released and we were able to go, of course, everybody missed their flights, but they did not help us in one way. We were just thrown out there. We had to scramble and look for flights, try to rent cars, whatever we could do. That was very disappointing to us."

The adopted children came from an orphanage in Ethiopia who had never seen snow.

"First day, we got home very late that evening, but when we got home, it was like God's gift again, because it was snowing and beautiful. We put on all this snow gear, and we went out and made snow angels and went sledding. They were out of their minds with excitement. They thought this was the greatest thing that ever happened."

They are going back to Ethiopia in a few months to adopt their other brother, who is 10 months old.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.