Pico Rivera residents Luz and Jose Mendez arrived at Los Angeles International Airport around 8 a.m. Friday to catch a flight to Cancun for vacation. Before they boarded, the couple decided to stop at the Terminal 3 Starbucks for coffee.
In line, they suddenly saw a group of people running toward them and then heard a series of gunshots.
“Down! Down! Down! There’s a shooter!” someone yelled.
In the terminal food court, Demetrius Trammel was inside the Gladstone’s 4 Fish restaurant kitchen when he saw a mob of people running frantically. Some were coming in the restaurant and others running out, he said.
Then Trammel heard a gunshot and everybody dropped to the floor at the same time.
The Mendezes, meanwhile, ran toward the nearby Burger King for shelter. But the couple got separated -- Jose was herded into the kitchen and Luz into a storage room. There wasn’t enough room for everyone, Jose said, and some people had to hide under tables and chairs in the Burger King dining room. Jose said he was one of about 40 people “packed” into the kitchen “like sardines.”
That’s about when Trammel said he saw a man emerge from the crowd with what appeared to be an AR-15 rifle in a shoulder holster.
The gunman calmly walked through the lobby with the gun pointed at an angle toward the ground, Trammel recalled.
“He was looking around,” Trammel said. “He was calm, pacing, scanning the crowd, like he was looking for somebody specifically.”
Trammel said he made brief eye contact with the gunman, then he saw three men in helmets and face masks crouching along the wall, making their way toward the gunman.
Trammel turned around and cut off the lights inside the restaurant so that the gunman could not see inside. He heard five to six shots. Then silence.
When he looked up the gunman was face down and bleeding from his upper body and leg. The officers kicked the rifle away from him.
Jose Mendez recalled that the final set of gunshots rang out closest to them. Moments afterward, they could hear police yelling, “Come out with your hands up!”
Mendez said the terrified people weren’t sure initially whether the commands were coming from the gunman or police. Once they were convinced it was law enforcement, they emerged with their hands up to find armed officers with guns pointed to the ground.
The crowd inside Gladstone’s was on lockdown till about 11:30 a.m., Trammel said, adding that he could see the gunman lying in the lobby from the window.
Jose estimated that more than 300 people were later taken to be interviewed in the Bradley International Terminal next door where they were held upstairs for hours. Police placed them in sequestered groups of about 100, lining them up and asking each person individually what they had seen, Jose said.
Trammel said he was interviewed by the FBI as well as an LAPD homicide detective.
Luz Mendez said she cried as the hours passed, until the pair were finally released around 4 p.m.