Accused Los Angeles airport shooter could face death penalty

Reuters

By Alex Dobuzinskis and Dana Feldman

LOS ANGELES, Nov 2 (Reuters) - The 23-year-old man accusedof opening fire at Los Angeles International Airport, killing anairport security officer and wounding three other people, couldface the death penalty after being charged with murder onSaturday, a federal prosecutor said.

Paul Anthony Ciancia was charged with murder of a federalofficer and committing violence at an international airport,U.S. Attorney Andre Birotte told reporters a day after theshooting that touched off panic and chaos at the world's sixthbusiest airport.

Ciancia carried a signed note that called TransportationSecurity Administration officers "traitorous" and he targetedthem during his rampage at the airport's Terminal 3, FBI specialagent in charge David Bowdich said.

Ciancia was dropped off at the airport, said Bowdich, whodeclined to say if the FBI knew who drove the suspected gunmanthere.

The slain TSA officer, Gerardo Hernandez, 39, became thefirst employee of the agency created after the Sept. 11, 2001,hijacked plane attacks to be killed in the line of duty.

The shooting sent hundreds of travelers running for safetyand some dove for cover behind luggage, as loud alarms blaredthrough the terminal. Flights were grounded, delayed ordiverted, with more than 167,000 arriving and departingpassengers seeing disruption to their itineraries on Friday.

Ciancia entered Terminal 3 and pulled a Smith & Wesson.223-caliber assault rifle out of his bag, firing multiplerounds at Hernandez at point-blank range, said a criminalcomplaint filed in court on Saturday. The shooting occurred at adocument verification checkpoint, authorities said.

The suspect then began to walk up an escalator and lookedback at Hernandez who appeared to move, and returned to shoothim again, the complaint said.

Ciancia, who police say continued past the metal detectorsand ran deep into the passenger boarding area at Terminal 3,shot and wounded two other TSA employees and an airlinepassenger, the complaint added. Two other people were hurtevading gunfire, Bowdich said.

Authorities said the suspected gunman made it down a longpassageway as far as a food court in the passenger loading area,where he was shot and wounded by airport police officers. TheLos Angeles Times has reported his wounds include a gunshot tothe head.

"They did stop this before, we believe, what would have beena much more grave action" with more casualties, Bowdich said ofthe airport police.

Ciancia was "unresponsive" in a hospital on Saturday, withinvestigators unable to interview him, Bowdich said.

Both federal charges against Ciancia carry the maximumpenalty of death or life in prison, said Birotte.

"It will be the decision of the attorney general of theUnited States whether or not to seek the death penalty in thiscase," the prosecutor added.

ANGRY NOTE

The Los Angeles Times reported that among the wounded wasteacher Brian Ludmer, 29, who was shot in the leg. Ludmerteaches high school in the Los Angeles suburb of Calabasas.

In the handwritten note the suspect was carrying, heexpressed malice toward TSA officers, Bowdich said.

"We found a statement where he made a conscious decision tokill multiple TSA employees," Bowdich said. "He addressed themat one point in the letter and said that he wanted to 'instillfear into their traitorous minds.'"

Late on Friday, FBI agents obtained a search warrant andcombed through Ciancia's home in the suburban Sun Valley sectionof Los Angeles, FBI spokeswoman Ari Dekofksy said.

John Mincey, Ciancia's former roommate from another part ofLos Angeles, told local television station KABC that Ciancianever displayed hatred or ties to "any hate group, or anythinglike that."

Hernandez, the slain officer, was born in El Salvador andcame to the United States at age 15, his wife, Ana Hernandez,told reporters outside her home in a Los Angeles suburb.

The couple met when he was 19 and Ana was 16 and they hadtwo children together, she said. He began working for the TSA atLos Angeles International Airport in 2010, she said.

"He was a joyful person, always smiling, who took pride inhis duty for the American public as well as the TSA mission,"Ana Hernandez said. "Gerardo was a great man who always showedhis love for our family."

TRIBUTE TO OFFICER

Los Angeles police officers will be wearing black mourningbands in memory of Hernandez, Chief Charlie Beck of the LosAngeles Police Department said on Twitter.

The airport said its public art display of 100-foot(30-metre) pylons would be lit blue through Sunday to honorHernandez.

All airlines at the airport except JetBlue were back tonormal operations on Saturday afternoon, airport officials saidin a statement. Terminal 3, which had been the scene of amassive investigation, was fully reopened to passengers atmidday on Saturday, officials said.

Bowdich said the FBI was seeking more information about thebackground of Ciancia, who has family in New Jersey.

Police and FBI agents have visited the home of Ciancia'sfamily in Pennsville Township, New Jersey.

Pennsville Police Chief Allen Cummings said he had beencontacted by Ciancia's father before the shooting, prompted by aworrisome text message from the young man to his brother.

The police chief declined to reveal more about the contentof the text message, but said that family members toldinvestigators they had no previous indications that Ciancia, whomoved to California about 18 months ago, was troubled.

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