LAX shooting: Alleged gunman’s motive remains a mystery


As authorities filed murder charges against the suspect in the LAX shooting rampage, they were also trying to determine a possible motive.

Paul Anthony Ciancia, 23, an unemployed motorcycle mechanic, grew up in the Philadelphia suburb of Pennsville Township, N.J., where his father runs an auto body shop.

The success of Salem County Collision afforded the family beach vacations, private school tuition for their children and renovations to their stately home, said longtime family friend Alan Levitsky. Some of the work on the house — ramps and an elevator — was done to accommodate a wheelchair for Ciancia’s mother, who suffered from multiple sclerosis, Levitsky said. She died in 2009.


“It was tough on the kids,” he said.

In recent years, Ciancia’s father had been training his son to take over the body shop, Levitsky said. In 2011, Ciancia graduated from the Motorcycle Mechanics Institute in Orlando, Fla., where he learned to fix Harley-Davidsons.

“He was a sweet kid. A good, quiet boy. Nothing abnormal,” Levitsky said, adding that he showed no signs of the political obsessions on display in the note the FBI described. “I don’t know where any of that came from. The dad is not political at all.”

Ciancia moved to Los Angeles about 18 months ago, said Allen J. Cummings, the Pennsville police chief, who is friends with Ciancia’s father. They had no indication Ciancia was struggling, Cummings said, or that he may have harbored anti-government sentiments.

“We don’t really know what happened out West,” Cummings said. “We don’t know where he got his ideas or where that came from.”

By Friday, Cummings said, Ciancia had sent text messages to his brother and sister, indicating that he wanted to harm himself. His sister alerted the Los Angeles Police Department, Cummings said, but officers visited his apartment and said they found nothing amiss.

Later that day, with news crews swarming Los Angeles International Airport, Ciancia’s father called Cummings. “I’m watching TV,” he told the chief, “and I think this is my son at the airport.”

Authorities filed a murder charge Saturday against him, and offered chilling new details that suggested the rampage was explicitly aimed at Transportation Security Administration agents.

The gunman was carrying a signed, handwritten note in his duffel bag that said he wanted to “instill fear into their traitorous minds,” said David Bowdich, special agent in charge of the Counterterrorism Division at the FBI‘s Los Angeles office.

“His intent was very clear in his note,” Bowdich told reporters Saturday. “In that note he indicated his anger and his malice toward the TSA officers.”

A law enforcement official told The Times that the screed resembled a “suicide note.” The gunman said he didn’t want to hurt anyone “innocent” — only TSA agents. The note also mentioned “NWO,” a possible reference to the New World Order, a conspiracy theory that holds that forces are trying to create a totalitarian one-world government.

One TSA agent checking passenger identifications was killed — the first in the agency’s history — and at least two other agency employees and one civilian were wounded by gunfire.

The shooter was apparently dropped off at LAX just after 9 a.m. Friday, authorities said, though they gave no details about the driver. The triggerman wore dark clothes and a bulletproof vest and had not purchased a ticket. He carried a Smith & Wesson .223-caliber M&P-15 assault rifle, five loaded magazines and a trove of ammunition, Bowdich said.


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Times staff writers Robert Faturechi, Brian Bennett, Rick Rojas, Jason Wells, Alicia Banks, Dan Weikel, Laura J. Nelson, Abby Sewell and Matt Stevens contributed to this article.