Suspected Los Angeles airport gunman charged with murder

If convicted, Paul Ciancia could potentially face the death penalty for allegedly killing a TSA officer

TSA agents walk on the departures level a day after a shooting that killed a Transportation Security Administration worker and injured several others at Los Angeles International Airport on Friday.
Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images

Federal prosecutors filed charges including murder Saturday against the unemployed motorcycle mechanic suspected in the shooting that killed a Transportation Security Administration officer at Los Angeles International Airport a day earlier. If convicted, Paul Ciancia could possibly face the death penalty.

Authorities said the suspect appeared determined to lash out at the TSA, allegedly writing in a note before the incident that he wanted to kill at least one officer from the federal agency he deemed "traitorous."

Ciancia was arrested Friday after authorities said he barged into a terminal, pulled a semi-automatic rifle from his duffel bag and opened fire. The bullets killed a TSA officer and injured four others before Ciancia was gunned down by airport police. He is currently in a hospital.

The killing was "believed to be a premeditated act of murder in the first degree," U.S. Attorney Andre Birotte Jr. said while announcing the charges Saturday at a news conference.

Birotte said that the suspect faces charges of murder of a federal officer and committing violence at an international airport, and that federal prosecutors could seek the death penalty.   

Authorities believe someone dropped Ciancia off at the airport, and agents are reviewing surveillance tapes and other evidence to piece together the events.

"We are really going to draw a picture of who this person was, his background, his history. That will help us explain why he chose to do what he did," FBI Special Agent in Charge David L. Bowdich said at the news conference.

It was not clear why Ciancia allegedly targeted the agency.

Leon Saryan of Milwaukee had just passed through security and was looking for a place to put his shoes and belt back on when he heard gunfire. He managed to hide in a store. As he was cowering in the corner, the shooter approached.

"He looked at me and asked, 'TSA?' I shook my head no, and he continued on down toward the gate," Saryan said.

Officials said they found a note in his duffel bag suggesting that he was willing to kill almost any officer he could confront, and saying that he wanted to “instill fear in their traitorous minds.”

"Black, white, yellow, brown, I don't discriminate," the note read, according to a paraphrase by a law enforcement official briefed on the investigation. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak publicly.

The official said the note also mentioned "fiat currency" and "NWO," a possible reference to “new world order” – a phrase from a conspiracy theory that foresees a totalitarian one-world government.

Ciancia, who was shot four times by airport police, remained hospitalized Saturday and there was no word on his condition. He was wounded in the mouth and leg, authorities said.

Terminal 3, the area where the shooting occurred, reopened Saturday afternoon. Passengers who had abandoned luggage to escape Friday's gunfire were allowed to return to collect their bags.

"When challenged, Los Angeles is ready and knows how to respond. This is one tough town," said City Councilman Mike Bonin, whose district includes the airport.

He praised airport police, saying they "saved untold lives" with a swift response that was "absolutely textbook."

The TSA plans to review its security policies in the wake of the shooting. Administrator John Pistole did not say if that meant arming officers.

The Associated Press

Related News

Find Al Jazeera America on your TV

Get email updates from Al Jazeera America

Sign up for our weekly newsletter


Get email updates from Al Jazeera America

Sign up for our weekly newsletter