Israel war vigil attendees describe moments stampede broke out at University of Florida: 'Crying, shaking'

Dozens of people are still recovering from injuries after a stampede at the University of Florida. It happened at a vigil meant to honor lives lost in Israel following an attack by the terror group Hamas.

The University of Florida said between 800 and 1,000 people were crowded into Turlington Plaza when the stampede broke out.

Matt Gold was there and caught the whole thing on video.

"People shaking, crying, screaming," he recounted. "People climbing over each other, pushing into each other, shoving into walls."

Gold says when the crowd started to scatter, no one knew why it was happening.

"At that moment, you really make a split decision of you have to run. I mean, you have no choice," explained Gold. "The things going through your mind are, you know, ‘is there a terrorist attack? Is someone shooting you? Do they see someone with a gun?’"

The University of Florida Police Department explained what it says happened in a statement: "An attendant fainted, which led to others asking for someone to call 911. The call was misunderstood by the crowd, which dispersed in a panic."

UFPD said five people were treated for minor injuries on scene. UF Health Shands said 20 showed up at the hospital for treatment, too.

Vigil for Israel at UF, moments before stampede (Courtesy: Matt Gold)

That doesn’t include all the people with cuts and bruises who didn’t go to the hospital, like Nick VanZandt. He said he has bruises on his shoulder and a skinned knee after getting trampled.

"Like a quarterback getting sacked," he said, describing how it felt when he was hit by people who, at the time, thought they were running for their lives.

Dave Benson, a security consultant and former state department employee, said you should have an exit strategy any time you go to crowded events – like the one in Turlington Plaza. If something does happen where people start running, he said the main goal is just to stay on your feet.

"Don't go with the crowd," said Benson. "Try to work your way to the left or the right-hand side."

Benson also says it’s a good idea to use your arms to form a box around you as you run.

"You don't want to elbow people," he explained. "You don't want to pick a fight with people, but you want to expand your space a little bit so you don't get crowded in sort of you give yourself some room to maneuver."

Even now, knowing there wasn’t a shooter or an attack, doesn’t really take away from what people are feeling after the fact. They were terrified.

Gold’s wife, Allyson, was at home with their baby when he called after the stampede, nearly crying and on the verge of a panic attack. 

"I'm just happy that we're safe and that he made it home and we're here to talk about it," she told FOX 35 News.

"It just kind of speaks to the overall sense of fear that's in the community right now," said Gold.

Despite what happened, the attendees FOX 35 spoke with each said the show of support for Israel is necessary, and that they’d go again if there’s another vigil.

"We don't give up and there's always hope," said Allyson Gold.

Hillel International said the University of Florida has the largest population of Jewish students of any other public school in the country, accounting for over 19% of the undergraduate enrollment, and 14% of graduate students.