In this photo provided to the AP, which has been authenticated based on its contents and other AP reporting, police officers stand near an unidentified weapon in Terminal 3 of the Los Angeles International Airport on Friday. Officials said a gunman who opened fire in the terminal was wounded in a shootout with police and taken into custody. / AP
Police check the area around Terminal 1 at Los Angeles International Airport on Friday. A gunman armed with a semi-automatic rifle opened fire at the airport on Friday, killing a Transportation Security Administration employee and wounding two other people. Flights were disrupted nationwide. / Reed Saxon, The Associated Press
LOS ANGELES — A man carrying a note that said he wanted to “kill TSA” pulled a semi-automatic rifle from a bag and shot his way past a security checkpoint at Los Angeles International Airport on Friday, killing one Transportation Security Administration officer and wounding two others, authorities said.
The gunman was wounded in a shootout with police and taken into custody, authorities said.
The attack at the nation’s third-busiest airport sent terrified travelers running for cover and disrupted flights from coast to coast.
The TSA late Friday identified the slain officer as Gerardo I. Hernandez, 39. He is the first TSA officer killed in the line of duty in the 12-year history of the agency, which was founded in the aftermath of 9/11.
The FBI and Los Angeles Airport Police identified the gunman as Paul Ciancia, 23, of Pennsville, N.J. He had apparently been living in Los Angeles.
A law enforcement official, speaking on condition of anonymity because the person was not authorized to discuss the investigation publicly, said Ciancia was wearing fatigues and carrying a bag containing a one-page handwritten note that said he wanted to kill TSA employees and “pigs.”
The official said the rant refers to how Ciancia believed his constitutional rights were being violated by TSA searches and that he’s a “pissed-off patriot” upset at former Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano. The note and the gunman’s rifle each had an orange TSA inspection sticker on it.
Across the U.S., aviation officials stopped LAX-bound flights from taking off from other airports, causing delays around the country. Some Los Angeles-bound flights that were already in the air were diverted to other airports.
Palm Springs International Airport made preparations to accommodate any of LAX’s diverted flights soon after learning of the incident Friday.
“We have been told some flights are coming our way,” said Tom Nolan, airport executive director, who added that the operations at the Palm Springs airport were not affected by the shootings at LAX. It is “business as usual. We are open for business and safe as always, despite what’s going on,” he said.
Official: Gunman carried ammunition
Ciancia had at least five full 30-round magazines on him, said the official, who was briefed at LAX on the investigation. The official said Ciancia was shot in the mouth and leg by two airport police officers. Another official briefed on the incident at LAX who could not speak publicly said the gunman had been shot four times but was “stable” when he was transported to the hospital.
By Friday afternoon, Ciancia’s father in New Jersey had called authorities for help in finding his son after the young man sent one of his siblings a text message about committing suicide, Pennsville police Chief Allen Cummings said.
The chief said he called Los Angeles police, which sent a patrol car to Ciancia’s apartment. There, two roommates said that they had seen him Thursday and that he was fine, according to Cummings.
Cummings said that the Ciancias — owners of a body shop — are a “good family” and that his department had had no dealings with the son.
'Everybody in line hit the floor'
The attack began around 9:20 a.m. when the gunman pulled an assault-style rifle from a bag and began firing inside Terminal 3, Los Angeles Airport Police Chief Patrick Gannon said. The terminal serves such airlines as Virgin America, AirTran, Alaska Airlines, Horizon Air and JetBlue.
The gunman then went to the security screening area, where he fired more shots and went into the secure area of the terminal, Gannon said. Officers exchanged fire with him and seized him, Gannon said.
As gunshots rang out, travelers dropped to the ground. Those who had made it past security ran out of the terminal and onto the tarmac or sought cover inside.
“We just hit the deck. Everybody in the line hit the floor and shots just continued,” said Xavier Savant, who was waiting in the security line where the shooting took place. He described it as a “Bam! Bam! Bam!” burst of gunfire.
Savant said people bolted through the metal detectors and ran into the terminal.
“My whole thing was to get away from him,” said Savant, an advertising creative director who was heading to New York with his family for a weekend trip.
Just a few weeks ago, airport police and the Los Angeles Police Department had jointly trained for a similar shooting scenario, according to Gannon, who said officers told him the drill was critical in preparing them for the real thing.
While Terminal 3 remained closed, much of the rest of the airport continued operating, though with some disruptions. Some LAX-bound flights that were already in the air were diverted to other airports.
The ripple effect across the country delayed 76,000 travelers, LAX officials said. Hundreds of stranded passengers streamed into nearby hotels, rolling bags behind them down roads absent of car traffic.
Effects felt in valley, across the U.S.
The impact of the shooting on air travel locally appeared to be minimal by Friday afternoon.
Baggage claim at the Palm Springs airport was empty at 4 p.m., and its conveyor belts stood still.
The only activity in the room came from the rental car companies — still doling out keys to customers flying in from airports other than LAX.
United Express Flight 6302 was listed on a television screen as having arrived, but that was not the case.
“It’s not coming,” said a baggage claim attendant for United. “Given this morning’s events, we’re not sure what’s going to happen.”
Earlier on Friday, Kris Ax, a Marine on leave, said he hoped his “flight is on time. I read about what happened in Los Angeles.”
Ax was scheduled to fly to Salt Lake City, and according to the posted airport schedule his flight was set to leave on time.
“I’m horrified to hear about what happened,” said Eva Christopher, who waited for friends to arrive in Palm Springs from Canada. However, she was confident that her incoming guests would not be affected.
Cathedral City Councilman Sam Toles, a vice president at distribution company Gaiam, was scheduled to return to LAX from a Denver work trip. Instead, he told The Desert Sun, he was rescheduled for another flight Friday evening.
“While I am scheduled to fly into LAX today, I was not there during this horrific shooting. I am okay — safe in Denver,” he posted on Facebook.
U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California weighed in on Twitter, writing, “My thoughts are with the victims of this senseless crime.”
The officer who was killed was one of the behavioral detection officers that are stationed throughout the airport, looking for suspicious behavior, said J. David Cox Sr., national president of the American Federation of Government Employees.
Initially, Cox said at least three other TSA officers were wounded. Later in the day, the TSA said two other officers were wounded. Their conditions were not disclosed.
Six people were taken to the hospital, the Los Angeles Fire Department said. It was unclear whether the gunshot victims were among them.
It was not the first shooting at LAX. On July 4, 2002, a limousine driver opened fire at the airport’s El Al ticket counter, killing an airline employee and a person who was dropping off a friend at the terminal. Police killed the man.
Desert Sun reporters Reza Gostar, Dave Nyczepir and Erica Felci and City News Service contributed to this Associated Press report.