Monday, May 10, 2021

Alumna feet from bomb

“Never came that close to death,” Plattsburgh State alumna Katya Castillo, Class of 2014, wrote on Facebook late Tuesday morning, “or to such a terrible, sad, frightening experience.”
Castillo, who is currently a master’s student in Ireland, thought she was going to spend her spring break traveling Western Europe. After exploring Belgium, she and her friends were ready to travel to their next destination.

The four women arrived at the Brussels airport. Soon after, they realized they were supposed to go to the city’s other airport to catch their flight. They walked outside, making it less than 100 feet from the entrance of the airport, hailed a cab, and within minutes, they heard the first explosion.

They felt the ground shake as they heard the blast, which was accompanied by a ringing in their ears. Everyone stood still.

The second bomb was detonated and exploded what seemed like 20 feet from the group.

“We were really confused about what happened,” Castillo said. “We saw the glass explode and the smoke. Then we saw people running, and instinctively, we all figured out it was a bomb and just ran for our lives.”

They kept running until they came upon someone who looked as though he could work for the airport direct them to the parking lot. The women were hiding out, trying to get as far away from the airport and any other tall building as possible.

“There were hundreds of people with their luggage, not knowing what the hell to do,” she said. “We’re not even from this country.”

They figured their safest option was to get back to the apartment they were staying at, but no cab would take them, and no bus was going on the route they needed so badly. Finally, one bus opened its doors to take them to the city center, where the apartment was located.

“That’s when we found out the subways were bombed,” Castillo said. “The bus was a mixture of people sitting and freaking out because we had no idea if there was another bomb going to go off.”

They arrived back safely and contacted embassies for help to get out of the country. Castillo and one of the other women took a bus from Brussels to the Netherlands. Once they arrived, they met a family who took them in for as long as they needed and drove them to the airport to catch their flight to the South of France.

“It was just a lot of shock and survival mode,” she said.

PSUC Assistant Professor of Journalism and Public Relations Rachael Jurek first heard about her former student’s position by that same Facebook post.

“My heart sank,” Jurek said. “Kitty was always very outgoing, friendly and very positive. She is going through some really scary things right now, but she probably still has a positive outlook.”

Jurek said she was impressed by Castillo’s post and could tell that she has an awareness of the “world around her that’s bigger than herself and what affects her personally.”

She said it is great that Castillo is willing to share her experience so others can understand the importance of foreign affairs, especially during an election season. She also said Castillo is a resilient young woman and an example of a student who realizes that everyone matters.

Castillo said hearing about a tragedy such as this is incomparable to seeing people “crying on the floor and fearing for their lives.” She said being there has such a bigger impact on a person.

“We all just need to appreciate what we have and really make an effort to make peace,” Castillo said. “The world needs peace so bad.”

Email Lisa Scivolette at

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