LAX shooting: Gunman targeted TSA officers, wrote anti-government note
LAX shooting: The latest
A composed, solitary gunman shot his way into Los Angeles International Airport on Friday morning, killing a transit security screener and injuring at least one more before being wounded by police and taken into custody. The incident was over in less than 10 minutes, but caused chaos at the world’s sixth-busiest airport and disrupted thousands of flights across the nation.
The gunman was identified as Paul Anthony Ciancia, a 23-year-old New Jersey native who lived most recently in Los Angeles.
Authorities declined to discuss the gunman’s motivation publicly. But a law enforcement official told The Times that a note was found on the gunman expressing “disappointment in the government” and saying that he had no interest in hurting “innocent people.” Ciancia also sent a sibling a text message last week suggesting that he was prepared to die, officials said.
It appears the gunman targeted unarmed Transportation Security Administration agents. Another law enforcement official told The Times that investigators were looking into the possibility that the shooter “wasn’t a fan of the TSA.”
Authorities said he approached several people cowering in the airport terminal, pointed his gun at them, asked if they “were TSA,” and then moved on without pulling the trigger if the answer was no. And a witness told The Times that the gunman cursed the TSA repeatedly as he moved through the terminal.
J. David Cox Sr., president of the union that represents 45,000 TSA flight screeners, called the shooting a “heinous act.” The gunman was not a TSA officer and “never had been,” according to the union, the American Federation of Government Employees.
The TSA was created in the aftermath of the 2001 terrorist attacks in an attempt to improve the safety of American transportation. The agency was charged with developing new methods of tightening airport security and preventing hihackings, but is most familiar to the public in the form of its battalion of blue-shirted screeners, who cannot make arrests and do not carry weapons.
A classmate of Ciancia’s said Friday that the suspected gunman was a loner and had been bullied at his private high school.
“In four years, I never heard a word out of his mouth,” said David Hamilton, who graduated with Ciancia from Salesianum School in Willmington, Del., in 2008, and is now an editorial assitant at a publishing firm in Philadelphia. “He kept to himself and ate lunch alone a lot. I really don’t remember any one person who was close to him.”
Officials did not immediately identify the 40-year-old screener who was killed. In all, seven people were injured. Six were taken to area hospitals. It remained unclear if the gunman and the TSA officer who was killed were included in that total. All of those injured were adults, hospital officials said. Some were not shot but suffered what authorities called “evasion injuries” — injuries sustained as they attempted to run.
Shortly after 9 a.m., the man entered the third of LAX’s nine terminals through the main door, pulled an AR-15 assault rifle out of a bag and “began to open fire,” said Los Angeles World Airports Police Chief Patrick Gannon.
The man walked up one flights of stairs, to the entrance of the security checkpoint; it is there, officials said, where at least three TSA officers were shot. He then entered the airport itself, walking with determination past a candy shop, a newsstand and a bookstore. An airport police officer and sergeant engaged the gunman in a brief gunfight near a food court.
“They hit him multiple times before he went down,” said one law enforcement source. A witness said the gunman was wearing a bulletproof vest.
As the gunfire echoed through the terminal, panic erupted and harrowing screams ricocheted down the corridors.
Travelers and employees crawled on the floor and ducked behind planters and advertising kiosks. Passengers tripped over each other and abandoned baggage as they barreled backward through the security check.
Jonathan Paul, 36, of Santa Monica, looked up from a newsstand and saw a wave of terrified people racing toward the main entrance. He said some were shouting: “Go! Go! Go!” Some travelers were halfway through security when the shooting erupted, and raced for the doors with their shoes and belts in hand.
Others, guided by no one and unsure where to go, pushed open emergency exit doors and fled the terminal. Some raced across tarmacs — one woman ran out of her shoes — and some attempted to seek shelter on planes that were still taxiing outside.
Brian Adamick, 43, who was preparing to board a Spirit Airlines flight for Chicago, for his brother’s wedding, was among those who escaped the terminal by running onto the tarmac. Before long, buses arrived to evacuate passengers. A wounded TSA officer with a bloody ankle boarded one of them.
“I got shot,” the officer told Adamick. “I’m fine.”
Stephanie Rosemeyer, 26, was awaiting a flight to Chicago when she saw people running toward the exits. She stood up to look for the source of the commotion, and found herself looking directly into the gunman’s eyes. She took a step, and said she heard the gunman curse the TSA. She was among those who raced onto the tarmac and was evacuated by bus.
“There was no one directing anything,” she said.
Vernon Cardenas, 45, was one of the last people still inside Terminal 3, and was trying to determine whether he’d be safer running or staying when he found himself face to face with the gunman. The gunman, dressed in dark clothing and no longer carrying a bag, had his weapon pointed to the ground and stared directly into Cardenas’ face.
“He wasn’t moving like he was being chased,” said Cardenas, the executive chef at State Social House restaurant in West Hollywood who was preparing to fly on Virgin America to Philadelphia to conduct auditions for the television show “MasterChef.”
Rather, Cardenas said, the gunman was moving slowly and methodically; Cardenas said he thought instantly of the grainy surveillance footage of the teen shooters moving through Columbine High School in 1999 — “roaming around with nowhere to go.”
Cardenas ducked outside, through an emergency exit, and remained there until a law enforcement official game him a thumbs up through the window, indicating that it was safe to come back inside.
Outside the airport, a surreal scene unfolded as travelers hurried with rolling bags and strollers past a sea of ambulances and a phalanx of heavily armed law enforcement officials.
The ripple effects of the shooting will last for days on global travelers. Three terminals were evacuated and shut down. Flights were restricted into LAX for six hours. At least 118 flights en route to LAX were canceled or rerouted; 135 departing flights were canceled and 127 departing flights were delayed at least 15 minutes. Several plans full of passengers spent hours parked at a remote corner of the airport.
Gina Marie Lindsey, executive director of Los Angeles World Airports, which operates LAX, said getting operations back to normal would require a “carefully orchestrated logistical ballet.” Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti called LAX “a very difficult place to come to and travel to.”
Six hours after the shooting, passengers were still wandering the streets surrounding the airports, emerging from random sidewalks and roadways as they looked for a way out. Many rolled bags, a few pushed carts full of luggage. Others had small dogs or children. People begged anyone in a uniform for information about whether terminals were open, or where they could go.
A crowd flooded the intersection of Century and Sepulveda boulevards as police provided occasional updates on loudspeakers. While waiting to cross the street, a man jokingly shouted to an officer: “Can you get us a taxi?”
The officer laughed: “If you find one, let me know.”
Passengers hoping to catch Friday afternoon flights from LAX tried something Angelenos rarely do: They walked to the airport. With nearby roads and freeways blockaded, pedestrians walked across Imperial Highway, some nervously checking over their shoulders for nonexistent cars.
Stephen Hartley, 59 of Chicago, had flown into Los Angeles to be with his daughter after her emergency appendectomy.
“I’m just going to walk until they say I can’t,” he said, before striding into the street.
Passengers walked across the exit ramps from the 105 Freeway and headed into the eerily quiet Sepulveda Boulevard tunnel. The only sounds were the echo of footsteps and the clack of rolling suitcases on the pavement.
“This is pretty eerie,” said Sandra O’Brien, of Minneapolis. “It feels like the ending of a disaster movie.”
Others took it in stride.
Francis Specker, 50, of Riverside, was supposed to take a 10:30 a.m. flight to New York out of Terminal 3. Specker was on the shuttle bus when the vehicle was told to turn around; he eventually walked to a nearby hotel and was hoping to catch a later flight.
Specker lived in New York during the 2001 terrorist attacks and said Friday’s shooting was not a huge surprise. “I guess this is sort of the new normal, right?”
4:30 p.m.: Officials said they would not immediately release the name of the dead TSA agent. They said a second TSA agent was shot and several other people at the airport were hurt.
3:43 p.m. LAX officials said in a Twitter message just before 3 p.m. that while Terminal 3 remains closed, they are preparing to re-open Terminals 1 and 2. Airport employees and concessionaires are being allowed to enter first.
A “ground stop” of airplanes is expected to be in place until at least 4 p.m.
3:13 p.m. Months before Friday’s shooting at LAX, officials removed armed police officers from their permanent assignments protecting TSA checkpoints, one veteran airport police officer told The Times.
Those officers were moved roving patrols in the passenger terminals, said Marshall McClain, an airport police officer and president of the Los Angeles Airport Peace Officers Assn.
LAPD officers and Los Angeles airport police were first assigned to the checkpoints after the 9/11 terror attacks on the World Trade Center in New York City.
After the attacks, LAX , the nation’s third-busiest airport, was designated as a top potential target for terrorists.
McClain said officials at the time were concerned that armed terrorists could easily breach the checkpoints and make their way to the passenger gates and parked aircraft.
LAX officials could not immediately be reached for comment. But in the past, they have added more police across the airport and increased security measures.
In a news conference Friday afternoon, LAX police chief Patrick Gannon confirmed changes were made in where officers were deployed. But he said those changes enhanced safety by placing the officers in a better position to address problems.
“Our officers did what they were supposed to do and performed heroically,” Gannon said.
McClain said he did not want to speculate why the officers were removed from the checkpoints. He added, however, that the association has been concerned about staffing levels at LAX.
Although roving patrols were started at the beginning of the year, McClain said officers tried to have a response time of two minutes to reach areas of the terminals they were assigned to.
McClain said armed police officers were in Terminal 3 when Friday’s shooting began but not at the TSA checkpoint where the gunman forced his way through.
Though an officer might have helped, he declined to say whether the immediate presence of law enforcement might have made a difference. There are too many variables and what-ifs, he added.
McClain said airport police chased the suspect through the terminal and shot him near the restaurant area of near the passenger gates.
“Our officers performed valiantly,” McClain said. “They were tested and performed as they were trained.”
MClain said the suspect was armed with an AR-15, an assault style rifle that was concealed in a bag as he walked through the ticketing area.
2:25 p.m.: A federal law enforcement official confirmed that police have identified the suspect who allegedly opened fire at Los Angeles International Airport on Friday morning as Paul Ciancia.
The official could not confirm Ciancia’s age. The official said police were looking at information that Ciancia “wasn’t a fan of the TSA.”
Authorities believe that Ciancia arrived at a TSA screening area in Terminal 3 at 9:20 a.m., pulled a rifle out of his bag and started shooting. He made his way past the security checkpoint into the terminal and continued shooting.
He was eventually shot and apprehended by authorities elsewhere in the terminal. He was in critical condition.
“This act of violence reminds us of the risks the brave men and women of TSA face every day as they work to protect the traveling public,” acting secretary of the Department of Homeland Security Rand Beers said in a statement.
“The thoughts and prayers of the entire Department go out to the family of the Transportation Security Administration employee who lost their life in the senseless shooting at Los Angeles International Airport earlier today, as well as the additional individuals, including TSA employees, who were injured in the incident,” Beers said.
The attack caused widespread chaos at the airport, with flights delayed and thousand of passengers left stranded on the streets in and around the airport. Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti urged people to avoid LAX, including those who have flights Friday afternoon.
Authorities said the gunman fired at several locations in Terminal 3 before police shot him.
The motive for the shooting was unclear. A federal law enforcement official said the gunman was a ticketed passenger entering the airport.Los Angeles Police Department anti-terrorism officials were on the scene, but sources said they believed the suspect acted alone and was not tied to any known terrorist group.
At a news conference, the Los Angeles Fire Department said it treated seven people at the scene and transported six to local hospitals. The TSA said “multiple” agents were hurt in the incident.
At Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center, Dr. Lynne McCullough told reporters that the hospital was treating three adult males. One was in critical condition with multiple gunshot wounds, she said, and another was in fair condition with gunshot wounds. The third victim was in fair condition with unspecified injuries.
The gunshot wounds were in “a variety of areas” of their bodies, McCullough said.
“Our hearts go out to the families” of the victims, McCullough said.
Patrick Gannon, the LAX police chief, said the gunman entered Terminal 3 at 9:20 a.m., pulled an assault rifle out of his bag and began firing. He moved into the screening area and continued shooting, Gannon said. He got past the checkpoint and moved further into the terminal.
Authorities tracked him down and shot him near a Burger King.
Vernon Cardenas, 45, of West Hollywood said he was at the airport on his way to Philadelphia when the shooting occurred about 9:30 a.m.
“Sitting down, all of a sudden, literally just out of the blue, you hear a rumble in the background, and a couple of seconds later people are running at me,” said Cardenas, who does casting for the Fox television show “MasterChef.” He described the scene as “mayhem,” with couples crying and parents who couldn’t find their children.
Brian Adamick, 43, said he was boarding a Spirit Airlines flight to Chicago at Gate 32 when a commotion erupted.
He said people were running through the terminal, away from a security area. Adamick said he went through an emergency exit downstairs onto the tarmac with several other passengers.
“While I was on the tarmac, I heard two gunshots from the same area where the people had been running and screaming,” he said.
A few minutes after he got outside, he said buses showed up to help evacuate passengers. He said he saw a wounded TSA agent board one of the buses. The man’s ankle was bloody: “it looked like it was straight out of the movies,” Adamick said.
The man told him, “I got shot, I’m fine.” He told passengers not to worry about him and that he had been shot before, Adamick said.
A White House official said President Obama had been informed of the incident: “The President has been briefed about the shooting at LAX. We will continue to stay in touch with our federal and local partners. The LAPD is leading the response and investigation. We urge citizens to listen to the authorities and follow directions from the first responders on site. The president will continue to receive briefings throughout the day.”
Tory Belleci of the television show “Mythbusters” tweeted: “Heard gun shots then everyone starting running for the door. Not sure if anyone was hurt. #LAX.”
TV news footage showed dozens of officers swarming the airport. Images also showed a law enforcement officer being treated by paramedics. He appeared to be alert. Another officer had a bloody hand.
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