A suspect armed with an assault rifle shot his way through a security gate in Terminal 3 at Los Angeles International Airport Friday, wounding about a half-dozen people and possibly killing a security agent before being shot and taken into custody.
The gunfire erupted around 9:30 a.m. inside the terminal that houses airlines such as Allegiant Air, Frontier, Spirit, Virgin America and JetBlue.
Patrick Gannon, chief of the Airport Police Department, said the suspect walked into the airport, pulled an assault rifle out of a bag and started shooting.
“He proceeded up into the screening area where TSA screeners are and continued shooting,”
Gannon said, adding that the gunman “went past the screeners and back into the terminal itself.”
Gannon said police pursued the gunman, who was shot and taken into custody inside the terminal. The gunman’s condition was not immediately known.
Interim Los Angeles Fire Chief Jim Featherstone said paramedics treated seven people at the airport, and six were taken to area hospitals. One person apparently declined to be transported, fire officials said.
2:45 p.m. UPDATE: The Transportation Security Administration issued a statement saying “multiple” TSA officers were shot, “one fatally.”
According to Craig Harvey of the coroner’s office, the victim was a roughly 40-year-old man, and he died around 11 a.m. at Harbor-UCLA Medical Center.
The hospital’s Dr. David Plurad said the man had no signs of life when he arrived at the hospital. He was suffering from “multiple” gunshot wounds to the chest and abdomen.
He said at least one bullet apparently fragmented, causing more extensive internal injuries.
J. David Cox, president of the American Federation of Government Employees, the union that represents TSA officers, said the victim was a “behavior determination officer” who had just transferred to LAX from Montana.
Harvey said the coroner’s office had not been notified about any other fatalities stemming from the shooting.
A second patient was treated for minor shoulder injuries at Harbor-UCLA Medical Center. Officials at Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center said they were treating three male patients, one in critical condition and two in fair condition. Another patient was believed to have been taken to Marina del Rey Hospital.
The gunman was described by some witnesses as a young white male. Various media outlets, citing unnamed federal sources, identified the gunman as 23-year-old Paul Anthony Ciancia of New Jersey. Some outlets reported that he was carrying a hand-written message saying he wanted to kill TSA agents.
Some initial reports indicated that a second suspect had been arrested, but Gannon said, “This was a lone shooter,” and the gunman “was the only person that was armed in this incident.”
David Bowdich, FBI special agent in charge, declined to provide any details of the investigation, but said, “At this point, we do not see any additional threats here at the airport.”
The outbreak of gunfire sparked chaos inside the terminal, as passengers scrambled to evacuate.
A witness told KNX radio that people began scrambling to evacuate the terminal when the shots rang out. She said some people were directed out through emergency exits onto the tarmac until they were picked up by buses and taken to another terminal.
Airline passenger Dana Starfield told KCAL9 she and other passengers hid in a closet at the terminal after the shots rang out.
“We were all just texting our families and where we were,” she told the station. “… I just let them know where I was and that I was OK.”
Century Boulevard was closed off leading into the airport, blocking all traffic into LAX, and motorists were advised to avoid the area. Traffic was at a standstill on streets heading toward the airport. Freeway exits near the airport were also closed.
A ground stop was issued for the airport, meaning planes around the country bound for LAX were being held on the ground. Planes already in the air were landing at LAX, and planes at other terminals were being allowed to depart, according to the mayor’s office.
Gina Marie Lindsey, head of Los Angeles World Airports, the city agency that operates the airport, said some flights were diverted to LA/Ontario International Airport, but planes were still landing at LAX.
“I want to let everyone know that technically LAX is still accepting incoming flights, but we are doing that at less than half of our normal arrival rate,” she said.
She advised passengers to keep in close contact with their airlines, noting that all flights from the airport will likely be delayed for most of the day.
The shooting was the first of its type at LAX since 2002, when an Egyptian-born Irvine resident opened fire at the El Al ticket counter on the Fourth of July.
El Al employee Victoria Hen and Yaakov Aminov, who was at LAX to see a friend off, were killed and several other people were injured before the gunman – Hesham Mohamed Hadayet – was shot dead by an El Al security officer.