Gunman opens fire at Los Angeles airport, killing security agent

Reuters

By Dan Whitcomb and Alex Dobuzinskis

LOS ANGELES, Nov 1 (Reuters) - A lone gunman stormed into apacked terminal at the Los Angeles International Airport andopened fire with an assault weapon on Friday, killing an unarmedfederal security agent before he was shot and captured,authorities said.

The gunfire in Terminal 3 touched off panic and chaos at oneof the world's busiest airports as hundreds of travelers ranfrantically for safety or dove for cover behind racks of luggageand loud alarms blared.

At least one airport security agent was wounded by gunfire,in addition to the one who was shot and killed, and a number ofother people were hurt in the pandemonium.

Nearly 750 flights were halted, grounded or diverted aspolice evacuated passengers and shut down three terminals.Streets around the airport were blocked off for hours, snarlingtraffic for miles.

"An individual came into Terminal 3 of this airport, pulledan assault rifle out of a bag and began to open fire in theterminal," Patrick Gannon, chief of the Los Angeles AirportPolice, said at a news conference.

Gannon said the gunman, a U.S. citizen who appeared to beacting alone, pushed through the screening gates and ran morethan 100 yards (91 meters) into the airport, where lawenforcement officers caught up with him in a food court, shothim at least once and took him into custody.

"The suspect got back very far into a terminal. There is aBurger King that is quite a ways away from the screeningstation, and he was able to get back there," Gannon said.

Special Agent David Bowdich of the FBI identified thesuspect as 23-year-old Paul Anthony Ciancia, a resident of theLos Angeles area, who was being treated for his injuries at alocal hospital. There were no further details on his condition.

The slain agent, 39-year-old Gerardo Hernandez, was thefirst from the Transportation Security Administration to die inthe line of duty. The TSA runs passenger screenings in U.S.airports.

But the shooting was not the first such incident at theairport. In 2002, an Egyptian-born gunman opened fire at theticket counter of Israeli airline El Al, killing a flightattendant and a passenger before he was shot and killed.

SOMEBODY YELLED RUN

At the airport, 47-year-old traveler Lauren Stephens saidshe had just put her luggage on the scale at the ticket counterat Terminal 3 on Friday when she heard a series of gunshots.

"Everybody hit the ground. I jumped over the desk where theconveyor belt is. The woman who was checking me in hit theground, all the workers did. Everybody pancaked down on theground," Stephens said.

"More gunshots started. Somebody just yelled 'Run' at thetop of their lungs. It sounded like he was coming our way. Idon't know if that was just because he was turning the gunaround," she said. "I just left my bag and I just ran like hell.Everybody ran. People were falling. People were just trying tohelp each other out."

Video footage broadcast on CNN showed airport policeshouting at travelers to get down as hundreds of people sprintpast them, some carrying or dragging luggage. Loud alarms soundin the terminal and police sirens can be heard wailing outside.

Jose Mares, who was catching a flight back to his home inOklahoma with his wife, told Reuters he was about 20 to 30 yards(18 to 27 meters) away from a man with a gun on the second levelof Terminal 3 when the man opened fire. Mares, 31, said he usedhis own body to shield his wife from harm.

"As I'm getting on top of her I'm reaching for more luggageand that's when I stacked luggage like two high and then made arow of luggage," he said. "I was in the corner and I'm lookingat the guy just shooting randomly, like I saw a TSA (agent) godown."

The FBI's Bowdich said the gunman shot at least two TSAemployees, one fatally. A number of other people were injuredwhile fleeing the scene.

Three men hurt at the airport were taken to Ronald ReaganUCLA Medical Center, where one was in critical condition and twoothers were in fair condition, according to hospital spokesmanMark Wheeler.

Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti said that had police notmoved to stop the gunman as quickly as they did, the carnagecould have been much worse.

"There were more than 100 more rounds that could haveliterally killed everybody in that terminal today," he said.

MOTIVE PROBED

The FBI said it would probe the shooting itself as well asthe gunman's background, and a U.S. official who asked not to beidentified said separately that federal investigators weretrying to determine if the gunman had been targeting TSA agents.

"Our goal is to do a true scrub on the individual to findout what was the tipping point for this person," the FBI'sBowdich said.

A witness to the shooting, Leon Saryan, told CNN that thesame man he had just seen shoot a TSA officer "calmly" walkedtoward him and asked, "TSA?"

"I just shook my head, and he kept going," Saryan said.

A photo of the suspect released by the FBI showed a youngman with short, close-cropped dark hair and sideburns, and anFBI spokeswoman said agents armed with a search warrant weresearching Ciancia's home in Los Angeles.

In New Jersey, where the suspected shooter's father lives,police and FBI agents descended on his family's home inPennsville Township.

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.

"I came down here along with my lieutenant and we made aphone call to LAPD and asked that they do a well-being check onthe son in Los Angeles, and they called me back and said he wasnot at home at the time," Cummings told Reuters.

He declined to elaborate on the nature of the text messagebut said family members told investigators they had noindication that Ciancia, who moved to California about 18 monthsago, was troubled.

"Obviously they're upset. It's a shock to them. It's a shockto the community," Cummings said.

President Barack Obama was briefed on the incident and WhiteHouse officials are in touch with law enforcement officials onthe ground, spokesman Jay Carney told reporters.

"We're concerned about it, but I'll let law enforcementfolks talk about it directly," Obama told reporters in the OvalOffice after meeting with Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki.

Los Angeles International Airport is the world's sixthbusiest, handling over 63 million passengers in 2012, accordingto its official website.

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