Austin couple recounts hours of hiding after Barcelona attack

Austinites Kyle and Talia VanderVelden enjoy Barcelona, hours before an attack killed 13 in a popular tourist area. (Facebook photo)
Austinites Kyle and Talia VanderVelden enjoy Barcelona, hours before an attack killed 13 in a popular tourist area. (Facebook photo)

AUSTIN (KXAN) — As Thursday’s deadly attack in Barcelona unfolded, an Austin couple was in the middle of the aftermath. Officials report 13 people died after a van drove into a crowd on Las Ramblas, a popular tourist spot in the city.

Kyle and Talia VanderVelden arrived in Barcelona around 10 a.m. Thursday, about seven hours before the attack, and took in the sights.

As they exited Barcelona’s Metro, after taking it for the first time, they were met with a crowd of people running the other way.

“As we’re trying to get out, all of a sudden these people are bursting down through, and not even paying to put their ticket in and get through,” Talia VanderVelden said. “And they’re screaming like crazy and suddenly someone bursts through the glass that you’re supposed to exit out of.”

That’s when they knew something was wrong.

“So we spring the other direction in the Metro out of there and pop up on the street and start running one direction and we see all the police officers running that way, and the ambulances and they have giant guns,” she continued. “We’re like, ‘Oh my gosh, we cannot go the same direction as the police.’ So we just sprint the opposite way and have no idea what we’re running to.”

The VanderVeldens took refuge inside a nearby church, hiding in a back room with others, mostly tourists. Moments in, they became frightened.

“Five minutes later, it sounds like a big gunshot right outside the door,” VanderVelden said. “So we’re terrified because we think there’s someone like a gunman coming in.”

They stayed inside for an hour before they thought it was safe. But after another scare, they took shelter again, this time inside a souvenir shop.

After an hour there, they left and tried to figure out where to go next, when they had to hide for a third time; this time they returned to the church.

“We hear helicopters searching the area at that point so we knew something serious was going on and we learned they had caught the first guy and then eventually the second one and then there was a third one on the run,” VanderVelden said.

After hiding for a total of four hours, the VanderVeldens were able to return to their hotel, which is on a street that intersects Las Ramblas.

“It was surreal, you know. I don’t really get scared of much in terms of traveling or anything in general and Austin’s so safe to me and I’m so familiar with it since I grew up there,” VanderVelden said. “I think just the uncertainty of the culture that you’re in makes a huge difference compared to being back home.”

The VanderVeldens are in Europe, celebrating their one year anniversary. Barcelona is their first stop before traveling to Switzerland and Paris.

After Thursday’s attack, they spent much of Friday watching the news, but will continue their trip.

“It’s really easy to be afraid and not want to go and do anything, but personally I feel like that makes these groups and attackers win,” VanderVelden said. “And I think the best thing that someone can do is be very aware of your surroundings, don’t put yourself in dangerous situations. But leaving is giving them victory, and we don’t want that.”

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