LAX shooting kills TSA agent, sends travelers fleeing

Gunman opens fire at Terminal 3 screening area; one dead, others injured, suspect in custody

Passengers evacuate the Los Angeles International Airport on Fridayin Los Angeles after shots were fired
Ringo H.W. Chiu/AP

A man carrying a semi-automatic rifle, some 150 rounds of ammunition and a grudge against federal security agents shot his way past a security checkpoint at Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) on Friday in a deadly rampage that sent hundreds of travelers fleeing in terror.

"An individual came into Terminal 3 of this airport, pulled an assault rifle out of a bag and began to open fire in the terminal," said LAX Police Chief Patrick Gannon.

When the shooting ended, a Transportation Security Administration (TSA) officer was dead. Gerardo I. Hernandez, 39, became the first TSA officer in the agency's 12-year history to be killed in the line of duty. The agency was founded in the aftermath of the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks.

Among those injured in the shooting spree were two TSA officers and the gunman, who is now in police custody. More than a dozen travelers were treated for minor injuries – broken or twisted ankles, stress and exhaustion caused by the chaos.

A law enforcement official, who was briefed at LAX on the investigation, said the gunman – identified as 23-year-old Paul Ciancia of Pennsville, N.J. – was wearing fatigues and carrying a bag containing a hand-written note that said he "wanted to kill TSA and pigs." The term "pig” is a common pejorative for police.

The official, who requested anonymity because he was not authorized to speak, said the note referred to how the gunman believed his constitutional rights had been violated by TSA searches and that he was a "pissed-off patriot" upset at former Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano.

Ciancia was shot four times by airport police, and was hospitalized. Authorities have not yet released details on his condition.

Pennsville Police Chief Allen Cummings said Paul Ciancia's father called him early Friday afternoon saying another of his children had received a text message from the suspect "in reference to him taking his own life." Cummings said the elder Ciancia asked him for help in locating Paul.

Meanwhile, Congresswoman Loretta Sanchez, D-Calif., a member of the House Homeland Security Committee, confirmed Ciancia was an L.A. area resident.

'I saw death'

Witness Brian Keech said he heard "about a dozen gunshots" from inside the security gate at Terminal 3, as Ciancia shot his way through security checkpoints.

"I really thought I saw death," Anne Rainer, a traveler who witnessed the gunfire with her 26-year-old son Ben, told The Associated Press. The pair were about to leave for New York so her son could see a specialist for a rare genetic condition he has.

They took refuge behind a ticket counter where she said people prayed, cried and held hands. She watched as one person jumped from a second-floor balcony to get away from the gunman.

"Adrenaline went through my head, my body went numb, and I said, 'If I have to go, it's OK because I'm not going to feel it, but I have to save him,'" Rainer said.

Others fled into the terminal, taking refuge in coffee shops and lounges as the gunman shot his way toward them. However, some witnesses and authorities said the gunman ignored everyone but TSA targets.

Police declared the shooting incident over at approximately 10:30 a.m. EDT, but the investigation continues. Los Angeles Police Chief Charlie Beck said the FBI was taking the lead in the investigation.

Airport officials said an estimated 1,550 scheduled arriving and departing flights with around 167,000 passengers were affected by the incident. Flights continue to arrive and depart the airport, but on a limited basis.

LAX is the nation's third-busiest airport.

Al Jazeera and wire services

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