Updated November 2, 2013, at 10:50 p.m.
A gunman who pulled an assault-style rifle in a terminal at the Los Angeles International Airport on Friday morning was carrying a note that referred to his rights being violated by TSA searches, reports the Associated Press.
TSA officer Gerardo I. Hernandez, 39, died in the shootout, the first officer to be killed in the agency’s 12-year history.
On Saturday night, federal prosecutors charged the alleged shooter, Paul Anthony Ciancia, 23, with murder, as well as commission of violence at an international airport. He could face the death penalty.
In a news conference on Saturday night, U.S. Attorney Andre Birotte Jr. spelled out Friday’s chilling chain of events that began when Ciancia, dressed in fatigues and carrying at least 100 rounds of ammunition, strode into Terminal 3, pulled a Smith & Wesson .223-caliber assault rifle from his duffel bag and fired repeatedly at point-blank range at a TSA officer. The officer was checking IDs and boarding passes at the base of an escalator leading to the main screening area.
After killing that officer, Ciancia fired on at least two other uniformed TSA employees and a civilian airline passenger, who were all wounded. Airport police eventually shot him as panicked passengers cowered in stores and restaurants. He remains in critical condition, according to the Los Angeles Times.
A signed, handwritten letter found in Ciancia’s duffel bag stated that he had “made the conscious decision to try to kill” multiple TSA employees and that he wanted to stir fear in them, FBI agent in charge David L. Bowdich said on Saturday. The note also mentioned “NWO,” a possible reference to a conspiracy theory known as New World Order that advocates a one-world totalitarian government. The source also said that the note referenced Ciancia’s constitutional rights being violated.
Travelers were ordered to throw themselves to the ground, but many fled in the chaos and there were shouts about a bomb. “There were more than 100 rounds that could have literally killed everyone in that terminal,” Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti said at a press conference.
One traveler in the terminal told Milwaukee radio station WTMJ, “I was in the hallway cowering when the guy came through. And he had a rifle in his hand, and he looked at me, and he said ‘T.S.A.?’ And I shook my head, and he just kept going,” reports The New York Times. Another traveler told MSNBC that Ciancia walked calmly through the terminal and approached him just to ask “TSA?” Other witnesses confirm the gunman appeared to be targeting TSA officials.
Ciancia had been living in Los Angeles since 2012, prior to being a resident of Pennsville, a working-class town in New Jersey. On Friday, his father in New Jersey alerted authorities when Ciancia’s teenage brother received a text message from Ciancia saying he was “not going to be alive much longer.” The text did not include the word “suicide,” Pennsville Police Chief Allen Cumming clarified.
Those who know Ciancia were surprised at the news, and friends, roommates, and former classmates described him as “quiet,” “a nice guy,” and from a “good family.” He attended the the Salesianum School, a private boys’ school in Wilmington, Delaware, from 2004 to 2008, and also spent time at a technical school in Florida. It is unclear if Ciancia was employed, but he had spoken to his father a week ago about the weak economy and struggling to find work.
The Daily Beast points out that Ciancia has almost no Internet presence, unusual for someone his age. The family says they had no indication Ciancia harbored any anti-government sentiments.
Hernandez, the TSA officer killed, was a father of two. A bullet caused massive bleeding and chest and abdominal injuries. TSA agents are not armed. “A person intent on shooting their way in is probably going to get past the checkpoint,” an aviation-security consultant told the Wall Street Journal.
At least six additional people were injured in the melee, including two other TSA officials, and more were treated for minor injuries.
After hours of grounded and diverted flights, travel resumed Friday afternoon. Delays and cancellations continued through Saturday. Terminal 3 re-opened late Saturday afternoon, and travelers were allowed to return to collect their baggage.
The filming of an episode of the AMC show Mad Men in Terminal 4 was interrupted by the shooting, according to tweets from a production staffer. Actor James Franco was also stuck on a grounded plane that landed after the shooting occurred.