Investigators probe motives of Los Angeles Airport shooter

Airport police stand in the TSA area of terminal 1 after a shooting incident at Los Angeles airport (LAX). Credit: Reuters
Airport police stand in the TSA area of terminal 1 after a shooting incident at Los Angeles airport (LAX).
Credit: Reuters

The Los Angeles International Airport terminal where a gunman opened fire on Friday morning, killing an unarmed federal airport security agent and wounding others, remained closed to airplane traffic the day after the shooting as authorities probed the motive behind the attack.

Authorities have identified the suspected shooter as Paul Anthony Ciancia, 23, and they said he was shot and wounded by police in an exchange of gunfire at the airport’s busy Terminal 3.

The gunman shot at least two Transportation Security Administration employees, one fatally, said Special Agent David Bowdich of the FBI. The slain TSA agent, identified as Gerardo Hernandez, 39, was the first from the agency to die in the line of duty.

Los Angeles police officers would be wearing black mourning bands in honor of Hernandez, Chief Charlie Beck of Los Angeles Police Department said on Twitter.

The Los Angeles airport said on its Twitter feed that it had no timetable for when the FBI would complete its investigation. Passengers who had left luggage and other property behind as they ran to escape the gunfire are still not able to collect their belongings, but the airport says it hopes they will be allowed in soon.

“Stay tuned. Thanks for your patience,” one post said.

Several airlines, including Virgin America and Spirit Airlines, warned of delays and cancellations, while another, Frontier Airlines, announced it would operate out of Terminal 2 on Saturday.

Late on Friday, FBI agents armed with a search warrant combed through Ciancia’s home in the Los Angeles area, FBI spokeswoman Laura Eimiller said.

The gunman had an assault rifle and touched off panic and chaos at one of the world’s busiest airports. Hundreds of travelers ran for safety or frantically dove for cover behind luggage, and loud alarms blared through the terminal.

Traveler Lauren Stephens, 47, said she had just put her luggage on the scale at the ticket counter in Terminal 3 when she heard a series of gunshots. “Somebody just yelled ‘Run’ at the top of their lungs. … I just left my bag and I just ran like hell. Everybody ran.”

The gunman, a U.S. citizen who appeared to be acting alone, pushed through the screening gates and ran into an area where passengers were boarding flights, before law enforcement officers caught up with him in a food court, Patrick Gannon, chief of the Los Angeles Airport Police, said at a news conference.

The officers shot him at least once and took him into custody, he said.

The FBI late on Friday could not provide the total number of people shot in the attack, Eimiller said. Paramedics took five who were wounded at the scene of the shooting to area hospitals, Los Angeles Fire Department officials said. But they could not say if all of those people had been shot.

The Los Angeles Times reported that among the wounded was Brian Ludmer, 29, who was shot in the leg and works as a high school teacher in the Los Angeles suburb of Calabasas.

The investigation into the attack will probe the shooting itself as well as the gunman’s background and motivation, Bowdich said on Friday. “Our goal is to do a true scrub on the individual to find out what was the tipping point for this person,” he said.

Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti has asked that flags on city buildings be flown at half-staff, local media said.

DISTURBING TEXT MESSAGE

In New Jersey, police and FBI agents descended on Ciancia’s family’s home in Pennsville Township.

Pennsville Police Chief Allen Cummings said he had been contacted by Ciancia’s father before the shooting, prompted by a worrisome text message from the young man to his brother.

The police chief declined to say more about what was in the text message but said that family members told investigators they had no previous indications that Ciancia, who moved to California about 18 months ago, was troubled.

A U.S. official who asked not to be identified said federal investigators were trying to determine if the gunman had been targeting TSA agents in the rampage.

Tom Ridge, former secretary of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, which oversees the TSA, said he did not think security changes at airports could help prevent such an incident from happening again.

Ridge said in a phone interview he opposes the idea of arming TSA agents, who are tasked with screening air passengers.

“That (arming them) requires a level of sophistication and law enforcement training, and at the end of the day, I’m not sure it’s going to make that much of a difference,” he said.

The incident affected an estimated 1,550 arriving and departing flights carrying over 167,000 passengers, airport spokeswoman Nancy Castles said in a statement.

A number of those flights were grounded or diverted as police evacuated passengers and shut down three terminals.


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