It was nearing the end of a wonderful trip to Spain for Dave and Mindi Kronstad and their two sons, all of Issaquah.
After taking family photos on the afternoon of Aug. 17 at the Plaça de Catalunya, Barcelona’s busiest and most prominent square, the Kronstads headed southeast along Las Ramblas, the city’s main promenade for shopping, dining, having a sangria at a sidewalk café and simply enjoying life with friends.
With only a lane of traffic in each direction and a pedestrian-only, tree-lined boulevard running down the middle, Las Ramblas is mainly a place for foot traffic. Postcard kiosks, souvenir stands and outdoor seating belonging to the cafés and bars along the street fill the pedestrian walkway. Visitors want to be wary of pickpockets, purse snatchers and tourist scams, but these are generally the only crimes that the bustling street sees.
Nine-year-old Jens, the youngest Kronstad, had received €20 from his parents to buy a souvenir on the trip, and was determined to purchase a Captain America fidget spinner he had seen a few days before at one of Las Ramblas’ many tourist shops.
Dave, who directs NCAA basketball tours and was in Barcelona on a work trip accompanying the University of Arizona basketball team on a Spain tour, texted one of his friends from the tour about meeting up on Las Ramblas. At 4:55 p.m., he had just finished typing out the word “Almost” out of “Almost there,” when his attention was caught by two loud bangs.
Dave immediately turned toward Plaça de Catalunya, the direction from which the noises had come. The Kronstads then heard what Mindi described as “a roar of screams” — and not the kind of screams that large groups of Europeans emit for soccer scores on outdoor screens or a celebrity sighting.
“I heard screams like I’d never heard before … It didn’t sound right,” Dave recalled.
Dave and Mindi saw, in Dave’s words, “a mass of people running” toward them. After recent terrorist attacks on the streets of Paris, Brussels, Nice, Berlin, London, Moscow, Stockholm and Hamburg, there was no doubt in the Kronstads’ minds what this was. The only question was whether the weapons being used were guns, knives or an automobile.
“We had a moment of looking at each other, [thinking], ‘We’ve got to make a decision,’” Mindi said.
Dave grabbed his wife and sons and pushed them into the nearest door — Carrefour, a European supermarket chain.
The Kronstads had no sooner made it inside the grocery store than they saw a van driving up on the sidewalk at 50 mph and, according to Dave, “taking out everything in its path” — including not just metal postcard kiosks, displays of merchandise and crates of fruit, but also pedestrians caught in the deadly path. He “saw a girl get hit and go flying over the top.”
All of this transpired in just seconds after Dave heard the intial bang.
“If we had been 25 feet to the left, we would’ve been right in its path,” Dave said.
“The front bumper was all screwed up and everything,” 12-year-old Finn Kronstad said. “My first reaction was, ‘Is it someone who accidentally drove up [on the sidewalk] or is it a terrorist attack? Are there more cars behind it?’”
While trying to shield their children’s eyes from the carnage and process for themselves the gruesome images they were seeing, Dave and Mindi at the same time knew they couldn’t sit still — this attack could be far from over. Dave’s mind raced at the potential horrors that could be following: a second van, possibly full of explosives; gunmen following the van; bombs planted along Las Ramblas.
“We ran as far into the store as we could, not knowing what was coming behind,” Mindi said.
They hurried into the middle of the store, taking refuge in a nook; about 100 others were barricaded in the same shop. The store owners pulled down the large gates in the front of the shop, creating a protective shield between them and the outside.
Sitting on stools and overturned watermelon crates, Dave and Mindi began making phone calls to account for the members of Dave’s team and accompanying fans, and to let family members back home know that they were alright.
“When I called my mom, I had reality hit me, and I had to choke back tears,” Mindi said, explaining that “it’s a natural reaction to try to stay strong” for the children’s sake.
Despite being safe for the moment, the atmosphere remained, in Mindi’s description, “edgy.” At one point, a group of other people in the store screamed in panic, setting off a wave of further panic for anyone who heard them. Though they tried to stay calm, the Kronstads were always ready to jump up and run at a moment’s notice. When one family member had to use the restroom downstairs, the entire family went; this ensured that if another attack happened, they would all be together.
“We were still fight or flight at that point,” Mindi said.
Hours went by. Not speaking Spanish, the Kronstads felt cut off from the conversations around them, though a woman from New York was able to help translate.
Throughout the tense waiting period, Dave said that he counted his blessings; the family was together, safely inside a store, with access to water, air conditioning (a welcome repsite on a hot Spanish evening and a luxury not always found in Europe’s medieval buildings), water, bathrooms and — since they were in a grocery store — plenty of provisions.
The store owners tried to make their business-turned-shelter comfortable for everyone, handing out bottles of water and telling people to take anything they wanted to eat off of the shelves. Dave tried to hand them euros in return, but they would not accept any money.
Finally, at 10 p.m. — five hours after Dave had begun writing the “Almost there” message — the police showed up in riot gear to release the stranded one by one, checking each person’s face in case the terrorists were hiding among their victims.
The Kronstads had left a sunny, bustling Barcelona. The city they returned to was much different.
“There were papers strewn all over, stuff circled with spray paint … it was a bit of a war zone,” Mindi said.
Normally at 10 p.m., the evening would be just getting started on Las Ramblas, with young people hitting up the bars, having cocktails and tapas outside, groups of bachelor and bachlorette parties making their way tipsily down the sidewalk, and tourists shops staying open late for people to buy that last postcard, shotglass or Gaudi animal figurine.
But the Las Ramblas that the Kronstads now traversed in the dark was completely silent, empty only save for police with machine guns standing guard. The fountains in the Plaça de Catalunya that the family had taken photographs of just hours before were now turned off.
“It was eerie,” Mindi said.
Arriving back at the hotel, Dave and Mindi put Finn and Jens to bed. At 12:30 a.m., they heard that the final two members of the University of Arizona group who had been unaccounted for had returned safely; it was at this point, Dave said, that he was finally able to watch the news and learn that the van attack killed more than a dozen people.
“I was just happy we were safe, everyone in the group, on every team [in the tournament] was safe,” Dave said.
Dave and Mindi went to bed, but were unable to manage much more than an hour of sleep at a time without waking up. Dave was supposed to continue on to Italy while Mindi and the kids flew home, but his boss told him to return to Seattle with his loved ones.
“When work told me to stay with my family, it was a big relief — there’s no way I wanted to be anywhere else,” Dave said. “It’s just the physical presence of being home, not half a world away.”
Life will have to go on, however. Both Dave and Mindi work jobs that require them to fly around the world. Mindi is a flight attendant, and Dave will head out on a tour of Italy (to be joined by Mindi and Jens) with another basketball team this weekend. Dave said that he’s “not afraid to travel,” but he advises travelers to “be aware of your surroundings.”
“Don’t be so caught up in your little world that you don’t notice anything around you,” he urged. And this includes not only visual cues, but audible ones as well, such as the loud bangs that alerted Dave to the danger.
Still, “I’d be lying if I said I didn’t have reservations” about being in prominent, tourist-filled cities like Rome and Florence, Dave said. Could the Kronstads find themselves in the midst of another terrorist attack on a city that ISIS has not yet hit?
“The statistics say not, but honestly, the statistics show we never would have been [in an attack] in the first place,” Dave said.
At their interview in a Factoria Applebee’s eight days after the Aug. 17 attack, nothing could’ve felt further from the violence-torn streets of Barcelona, but the mental and emotional evidence of the attack was still visible in the mannerisms of Dave and Mindi. When the diners made a loud cheer for a Seahawks touchdown, Dave instinctively jumped — something he said that he does now whenever he hears a sudden loud noise. Several times during the retelling of the story, Mindi rubbed her arms where goosebumps appeared, a physical sign of the anguish she has undergone.
It is this kind of psychological fear, the Kronstads said, that the terrorists want to inflict on the entire world. Mindi said that besides being able to hit many people at once, terrorists choose well-known streets and squares in famous cities because people can relate, having themselves visited these locations.
“‘So many people put themselves in that situation, and think, ‘It could’ve been me,’” Mindi said.
“The problem is the enemy will do anything they can to drive fear” into people’s hearts, Dave said. But he is determined: “I’m not gonna live in fear.”
And the Kronstads have something else helping them — their Christian faith. Dave said that “having our faith helped us get through it” and that he and his family are “very grateful the good Lord watched out for us” — though they noted that even if one of their family members had been harmed in the attack, it would not have weakened their trust in God.
“Whatever happens, it’s not gonna shake our faith,” Mindi said. “That’s not how we want to live our lives.”
Dave, Mindi, Finn and Jens did not shy away from the scene of the attacks — the day after the atrocities, they visited Las Ramblas. What they found amidst the destruction and upheaval was a scene of love. All along the 0.75-mile boulevard, people had gathered in vigils to pray for and honor those murdered by the terrorists. Post-it notes containing messages of peace covered the side of a building.
In a fitting end to the trip, Dave and Jens brought business to one of the tourist shops whose sales were undoubtedly hurt by the terrorist attacks. Ducking under the metal gate, still pulled halfway down, they entered the shop and were finally able to purchase Jens’ much-longed-for Captain America fidget spinner.
Though not untouched by the attack they were very nearly victims of, Finn and Jens, who attend Pacific Cascade Middle School and Grand Ridge Elementary School respectively, still intend to continue their cultural education by traveling the world.
“It kind of changed my view on travel, but I think I would still like to travel more,” Finn said.