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NHS grad trying to find flight home after Brussels explosions

Cary Ashby • Updated Mar 23, 2016 at 11:36 AM

Former Norwalk resident Aaron Phillips has remained hopeful in light of Tuesday morning’s explosions at the Brussels international airport.

His mother, Carol, said now it’s a matter of her son finding a flight back to the United States. He was en route to the U.S. from Liberia after a mission trip with a group of five people from Cleveland. The group had a flight booked Sunday, but it was cancelled in Liberia.

“He was in Liberia for a two-week mission trip,” said Carol Phillips, referring to the venture at Ganta Mission for the Cleveland-based Nehemiah Mission organization.

About 34 people were killed and dozens were injured in attacks Tuesday at Brussels international airport and a city metro station. 

“Aaron was in a terminal not affected by the explosions,” his mother said.

Twin blasts hit the Zaventem airport about 7 a.m. According to BBC News, another explosion struck the Maelbeek metro station near EU headquarters an hour later, leaving about 20 people dead.

“Aaron found out about it because his terminal was in lockdown,” his mother said.

Although the Nehemiah Mission group was in an area of the airport not affected by the explosions, Carol Phillips said local authorities told them about the incident. She said her son has been impressed with how officers are handling the situation, making sure they know where people are. 

“They’re being thorough,” Phillips said.

Aaron Phillips, 30, is a Norwalk High School graduate. He has been living in Cleveland for eight years, working as the house manager at Playhouse Square. Phillips also interviews Cleveland residents who possibly can receive assistance from Nehemiah Mission, which is similar to Habitat for Humanity.

“I have not spoken to Aaron,” said Carol Phillips, who has heard from her son via email and Facebook.

“Thank you everyone for your prayers. I experienced only the confusion of evacuation and police resolution. It's very weird. I'm safe in Leuven looking for a new way home,” Aaron wrote on Facebook late Tuesday morning.

Facebook users have expressed their support by writing on Aaron’s wall. 

“Sending everything to you, and Venchise Glenn and Becky Trout, and everything to anyone that has been hurt or scared because of this horrible act. Can’t wait to see your fabulous faces at home,” Kevin Kelly said.

“Praying for you and all involved in this horrible situation,” wrote Sharron DeCosta, of Cleveland.

Phillips was asked how her son seems to be, based on what he’s written. 

“Of course he’s exhausted. He hasn’t had much sleep,” she said.

However, Phillips said her son is hopeful, noting he’s “the kind of person who is a relief to other people.”

“He’s got a very positive attitude,” she added.

Phillips said she heard about the Brussel attacks from a Cleveland-area resident who was keeping track of the Nehemiah Mission group members. Between 9 and 9:30 a.m., she said she had some peace of mind when she heard from “Aaron himself that he was OK and that was through an email.”

“Communication is sketchy there (in Brussels),” she added.

Before the airport explosion, three people in the Nehemiah Mission group secured another flight, leaving Aaron and a woman named Paula in Brussels. Phillips said the explosions happened when the other three people were in the air about 30 minutes.

The Islamic State (IS) group said it was behind the attacks in a statement issued on the IS-linked Amaq agency, according to the BBC News. 

Belgium has raised its terrorism alert to its highest level. Three days of national mourning have been declared.

Brussels police have issued a wanted notice for a man seen pushing a luggage trolley through the airport. He was pictured in CCTV footage with two other suspects who are believed to have died in the blasts.

Aaron and Paula, as of Tuesday afternoon, were working on a flight back to the United States. Phillips said a Brussels couple — whom she called “total strangers” — are letting the two stay in their home in the meantime and Paula’s husband, an attorney, has made a possible flight connection in Amerstdam, possibly on a diplomatic flight.

“Obviously, they won’t be able to get out of Brussels. They will have to make other arrangements,” Phillips said. 

While she said it’s “horrible” for the victims, she’s grateful her son wasn’t injured.

Belgium has raised its terrorism alert to its highest level. Three days of national mourning have been declared.

Prime Minister Charles Michel called the latest attacks “blind, violent and cowardly.”

“This is a day of tragedy, a black day. ... I would like to call on everyone to show calmness and solidarity,” he added.

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