Updated Nov. 3, 2013, 2:12 p.m.
Police are still piecing together why a gunman opened fire at a Los Angeles International Airport terminal on Friday, targeting Transportation Security Administration (TSA) employees in a shoot-out in which the gunman’s bullets killed one agent and injured two more, and also injured one civilian.
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.
Friday’s chilling chain of events 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 and fired repeatedly at point-blank range at TSA employee Gerardo I. Hernandez. The officer was checking IDs and boarding passes at the base of the escalator leading to the main screening area. Surveillance footage showed that after shooting Hernandez and walking onto an escalator, Ciancia turned and saw him move, then went back to shoot again, the Associated Press reports.
Authorities say, though, that Ciancia wasn’t targeting a specific TSA officer. ”Black, white, yellow, brown, I don’t discriminate,” read a handwritten note signed by the shooter, as paraphrased by a law-enforcement official not authorized to speak publicly. The note, found in the bag in which Ciancia was carrying his weapon and ammunition, also said he had ”made the conscious decision to try to kill” multiple TSA employees and that he wanted to “instill fear in their traitorous minds,” said FBI agent in charge David L. Bowdich.
Ciancia’s note also expressed that he believed his rights were being violated by TSA searches and made mention of “NWO,” a possible reference to a conspiracy theory known as New World Order that advocates a one-world totalitarian government.
On CNN’s State of the Union on Sunday, Michael McCaul, Republican of Texas and chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, who had read the note, said Ciancia “wanted to talk about was how easy it is to bring a gun into an airport and do something just like he did.” He also said the note said, “If I just kill one [TSA agent], my mission is accomplished,” and that Ciancia wanted to avoid killing civilians.
Investigators have been unable to find any connection with or run-ins between Ciancia and the agency. Contrary to some early reports, he had never applied for a job at or worked for the agency. Ciancia told police as he was being arrested that he had acted alone, and that a friend who likely did not have knowledge of Ciancia’s plans had dropped him off at the airport, authorities said Sunday.
The FBI has been unable to question the suspect because he is still in critical condition and unresponsive at the hospital.
The rifle Ciancia carried and used on his spree was likely purchased legally from a Los Angeles area arms dealer. Authorities believe Ciancia was dropped off at the airport Friday morning.
“We are really going to draw a picture of who this person was, his background, his history. That will help us explain why he chose to do what he did,” Bowdich said. “At this point, I don’t have the answer on that.”
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.”
Those who know Ciancia were surprised at the news, with friends, roommates and former classmates describing him as “quiet,” “a nice guy,” and from a “good family.” He attended the Salesianum School, a private boys’ school in Wilmington, Del., from 2004 to ’08, and a former classmate from described Ciancia as often eating lunch alone.
After graduating from the Motorcycle Mechanics Institute in Orlando in 2011, Ciancia moved to Los Angeles to seek employment as a motorcycle mechanic. He is currently unemployed and had spoken recently to his father about the difficult economy.
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 antigovernment sentiments.
Police Sergeant Steve Zouzounis and officer Brian Lopez, both LAX officers, are credited for swiftly tracking Ciancia down in Terminal 3, preventing more casualties. Last month, airport police and LAPD participated in a training exercise to deal with mass shootings, according to LAX police chief Patrick Gannon.
The two TSA officers wounded in the attack have since been released from the hospital, and Brian Ludmer, a Calabasas High School teacher, remained in fair condition at the hospital with a gunshot wound to the leg.