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Federal prosecutors to seek death penalty in fatal LAX shooting

Prosecutors claim LAX shooting occurred 'after substantial planning and premeditation,' to seek death penalty

Federal prosecutors will seek the death penalty against the man charged in the deadly 2013 shooting at Los Angeles International Airport, according to court documents filed Friday.

Paul Anthony Ciancia, 24, was charged with 11 federal counts in connection with the Nov. 1, 2013, attack that killed one Transportation Security Administration officer and wounded three other people. Authorities allege Ciancia walked into the airport's busy Terminal 3 and opened fire with a semiautomatic rifle.

Ciancia, a New Jersey native who was living in Los Angeles, pleaded not guilty to the charges.

Atty. Gen. Eric H. Holder Jr. made the final decision to seek the death penalty against Ciancia. In court documents filed Friday, prosecutors cited several factors that led to their decision, alleging Ciancia's actions were intentional and occurred after "substantial planning and premeditation."

"Defendant Paul Anthony Ciancia acted with the intent that his crimes would strike fear in the hearts of Transportation Security Administration employees," prosecutors wrote. "By committing his crimes on a weekday morning in a crowded terminal at one of the busiest airports in the world … Ciancia terrorized numerous airline passengers and airport employees."

Public defenders assigned to Ciancia's case did not respond to requests for comment Friday.

Ciancia allegedly targeted TSA employees in the attack — a signed, handwritten note found in a duffel bag he carried said he wanted to "instill fear into their traitorous minds," according to a federal affidavit written after the shooting.

Authorities allege Ciancia was dropped off outside the airport, carrying a Smith & Wesson .223-caliber M&P-15 assault rifle, five loaded magazines and a trove of ammunition. He allegedly shot TSA Officer Gerardo I. Hernandez at point-blank range, then rode up an escalator before noticing the bleeding man squirming on the ground.

Ciancia went back and fired again, authorities allege, killing Hernandez.

Ciancia then allegedly roamed the airport, calmly firing while cursing TSA agents. Witnesses said the gunman asked "Are you TSA?" before moving on.

Travelers hid behind planters and kiosks, trying to avoid the gunfire. Others fled to taxiing planes or spilled out onto airport ramps.

In all, two other TSA agents and a Calabasas schoolteacher were wounded in the 10-minute rampage before airport police shot Ciancia in the head and leg and took him into custody.

Ciancia spent two weeks recovering at a hospital before he was transferred to a federal detention center in downtown Los Angeles, where he remains in custody.

Hernandez, a 39-year-old father of two, was the first TSA agent killed in the line of duty since the agency was created in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

In the court documents filed Friday, prosecutors discussed the effect his death had on his family and colleagues, describing Hernandez as someone who "enjoyed a strong relationship with his family and co-workers."

The TSA declined to comment Friday on the decision to seek the death penalty against Ciancia.

Los Angeles airport police Chief Pat Gannon said he felt the decision was appropriate, "given the facts of the shooting."

"What a tragedy, all around," Gannon said. "Especially for Gerardo Hernandez's family and those wounded."

A spokesman for the U.S. attorney's office in Los Angeles said the decision to seek the death penalty will be discussed at a court hearing scheduled for Monday. He declined to comment further.

The shooting and the chaos that followed prompted an extensive review of the airport's emergency protocol. A 2014 report found that the response by authorities was hampered by poor communication and a lack of coordination between agencies, causing delays in reaching victims and disorderly evacuations.

As a result, airport officials and public safety agencies enhanced emergency response plans and communications systems. The Los Angeles Fire Department, for example, trained paramedics and firefighters to quickly enter potentially dangerous areas during active shooting incidents to treat victims and pull them to safety.

kate.mather@latimes.com

richard.winton@latimes.com

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