LAX gunman who targeted TSA officers is sentenced to life in prison
The gunman whose 2013 rampage at Los Angeles International Airport left a Transportation Security Administration officer dead and three other people injured was sentenced Monday to life in prison for the premeditated attack in which he targeted federal officers.
Paul Ciancia, 26, had pleaded guilty to murder and other charges earlier this year as part of a deal in which federal prosecutors withdrew their decision to seek the death penalty for the shootings at the airport’s bustling Terminal 3.
“He didn’t win. He’s doing life in prison. ...He’s not going to be able to hurt anyone else ever again,” Tony Grigsby, one of the TSA officers shot by Ciancia, said after the hearing Monday.
Before U.S. District Judge Philip S. Gutierrez handed down the life term, which was required under sentencing rules, Ciancia addressed the downtown courtroom full of law enforcement officers, victims and family members of Gerardo Hernandez, the TSA agent who was killed.
Dressed in a white jumpsuit, with his legs shackled to a chain around his waist, Ciancia gave an odd, mostly unapologetic account of the months leading up to the violence. He described wanting to commit suicide before the shooting, but said he decided first to spend the remainder of his life savings, which amounted to $26,000. During this time, he said he became interested in the debate over gun control and concluded, “I need to get a gun.”
Ciancia alluded to an incident in which he claimed he was harassed by Los Angeles police but gave no specifics, and he indicated that the harassment led him on a path toward violence.
“I knew exactly how I was going to die. I was going to take up arms against my own government,” he said.
As he planned where and whom to attack, Ciancia made reference to deciding against two other targets before settling on the TSA, but did not elaborate. He focused his anger on the TSA, he said, after coming to believe its officers were harassing people, including disabled people.
“I wanted to make a statement!” he said in court, his voice rising.
Ciancia apologized to the teacher who was among three people wounded in the rampage, expressing deep regret. But he never mentioned the effect of the shooting on the TSA officer he killed or two other officers who were wounded.
The teacher, Brian Ludmer, spoke after Ciancia and rebuked him for his “bizarre sense of remorse,” telling him he should apologize to the TSA officers he shot and their families.
“You need to apologize to them every day, and it still would not be enough,” he said.
Ciancia smirked at times as a member of the prosecution team spoke about the effect the shooting has had on the lives of the victims. Throughout the hearing, he looked around the courtroom frequently, seemingly trying to make eye contact with his victims and other law enforcement officers.
“The TSA officers were targeted because of the uniform they wore and because they were doing their job that day at Los Angeles airport keeping all of us safe,” said U.S. Atty. Eileen Decker. “The sentence today for Mr. Ciancia of life without the possibility of parole reflects the grievous nature of the crime.”
Ciancia, who grew up in the suburbs of Philadelphia and moved to Los Angeles about 18 months before the attack, harbored an odd, dangerous fixation on TSA officers, who screen travelers at the nation’s airports, even though they are not armed and have little authority.
After the attack, investigators found a handwritten note inside Ciancia’s luggage in which he railed against the TSA for its “Nazi checkpoints” and the presumption that “every American is a terrorist.” The rampage would be a success, he wrote, if he managed to kill a TSA worker.
“There wasn’t a terrorist attack,” he wrote to his sister shortly before the attack. “There was a pissed-off patriot trying to water the tree of liberty.”
About 9:15 a.m. on Nov. 1, 2013, Ciancia was dropped off by an unsuspecting roommate in front of the third of LAX’s nine terminals. He walked through the doors, and from a case he had fashioned from pieces of luggage, Ciancia pulled out a semiautomatic rifle he had purchased months earlier.
Instead of shooting wildly into the crowd of travelers, Ciancia took aim at Hernandez, who was near a podium checking passengers’ travel documents before they went on to a security checkpoint on the floor above, according to court papers.
Ciancia shot the TSA officer, who fell to the floor. The gunman then went up an escalator to the security checkpoint.
Seeing that Hernandez was still alive, Ciancia walked back down the upward-moving escalator, stood over the officer and shot him again and again. Hernandez was shot 12 times in total, according to court papers.
Ciancia then climbed the stairs to the security checkpoint, opening fire on two more TSA officers, who tried to flee alongside panicked travelers toward the terminal’s gate area. Both officers suffered non-life-threatening wounds; Ludmer, the teacher, was shot in the leg.
Moving deeper into the terminal, Ciancia reportedly asked cowering people whether they worked for the TSA. Other passengers fled onto the tarmac.
Within minutes, police officers confronted Ciancia, shooting him in the head. After life-saving surgery and weeks of recovery, Ciancia was put behind bars, where he has remained since. Authorities recovered a total of 500 rounds of ammunition Ciancia brought to the airport.
Hernandez, a father of two children, was the first TSA officer slain on duty since the agency was created in the aftermath of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks in an attempt to tighten security in America’s transportation networks.
The chaotic and disorganized response to the shooting by emergency personnel led to a highly critical report on the event that found widespread problems rooted in the failure of various police and fire departments to communicate with each other.
In recent court filings, prosecutors from the U.S. attorney’s office made vague references to mental health problems suffered by Ciancia that were discussed at length in a sealed report.
“The government does not dispute that defendant has some combination of disorders … and concurs that he has had suicidal ideation in the past,” wrote Assistant U.S. Atty. Patrick Fitzgerald.
Fitzgerald added that Ciancia has shown no remorse for the rampage and remains “resolute regarding his continuing ‘hatred’ of at least certain federal employees.”
Gutierrez, the judge, recommended Ciancia be housed at a medical detention facility in Minnesota to receive psychiatric treatment.
For more news on federal courts in Southern California, follow me on Twitter: @joelrubin
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6:20 p.m.: This article was updated with more details from the sentencing hearing and a comment from U.S. Atty. Eileen Decker.
1:55 p.m.: This article was updated with the sentence from Monday’s court hearing.
This article was originally published at 7:30 a.m.
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