LOS ANGELES - Paul Ciancia, the alleged gunman who paralyzed much of
Los Angeles International Airport in a Friday shooting spree, could have
turned the nation's third-busiest airport into a massive killing zone
had it not been for the quick response by airport police, officials said
In a criminal complaint, U.S. District Attorney Andre
Birotte charged Ciancia, 23, with murdering a federal officer and a
separate charge of committing violence at an international airport. An
affidavit said Ciancia - who could face the death penalty - fired a
.223-caliber assault rifle at point-blank range, killing Transportation
Security Agency officer Gerardo Hernandez, wounding two other TSA
officers and two civilians.
FBI Special Agent David Bowdich officials said Ciancia walked away from
Hernandez after shooting him in a pre-screening area at the airport,
then went up an escalator in Terminal 3 before returning and shooting
Ciancia remained hospitalized Saturday after being hit four times and
wounded in the mouth and leg. The FBI said he was unresponsive and they
had not been able to interview him.
As FBI and Los Angeles police
wrapped forensics work, Bowdich, Los Angeles City Councilman Mike Bonin
and LAX Police Chief Patrick Gannon said the victim toll could have
been much higher had LAX police not shot and wounded Ciancia within
minutes, thwarting him from firing more than a few rounds before he was
shot four times.
"The heroics of the officers cannot be
understated,'' said Bowdich, who noted that the suspect had more than
100 rounds of ammunition.
"They saved untold lives,'' says Bonin, whose district includes LAX,
which was close to fully operational Saturday afternoon after 1,550
flights - 724 arrivals and 826 departures - were diverted or canceled
Friday, impacting thousands of passengers.
Gannon says LAX
officers reacted swiftly, going "downrange" looking for the suspect, who
was tracked to Terminal 3's food court. The Los Angeles Herald identified the cops as Police Sgt. Steve Zouzounis and officer Brian Lopez.
didn't hesitate for one moment,'' Gannon said. "To say it wasn't a
traumatic incident for them, I'd be lying, but they handled it with the
Gannon said more than 200 LAX and LAPD personnel sharpened crisis
skills last month during a training exercise in an abandoned terminal at
Ontario International Airport, 40 miles east of L.A. With recent mass
shootings such as those in Washington's Navy Yard, Gannon says his force
was motivated. "It doesn't take much to want to handle an incident if
it occurs in your own backyard,'' he said.
A federal law
enforcement official said that the Smith & Wesson assault rifle used
in the attack is believed to have been purchased legally from a Los
Angeles-area arms dealer. The official also said authorities were
investigating whether a roommate unwittingly drove Ciancia to the
airport the morning of the attack.
Investigators recovered a
rambling note from the bag the shooter allegedly was carrying, which
detailed an intent to "kill" TSA officers, said two federal law
enforcement officials familiar with the message's contents.
said the handwritten note made it clear that the suspect intended to
kill "multiple" TSA employees and to "instill fear into their traitorous
The officials, who are not authorized to comment publicly, told USA
TODAY that the note was written in a way that suggested the author
expected to lose his life.
One of the officials described the incident as a suicide mission.
In recent days, one of the officials said, Ciancia's New Jersey
family had become worried about his emotional state and called local
police, who relayed their concerns to Los Angeles authorities. The
official said LAPD reportedly were in contact with the alleged shooter's
roommates, who indicated that he appeared to be OK.
Terrified LAX witnesses said the suspect specifically asked them whether they worked for the TSA.
Leon Saryan told ABC News that the gunman approached him and pointed a long-barreled weapon at him.
was cowering in a corner, he looked at me and he said, 'TSA?' I shook
my head no, and he kept on going," Leon Saryan said. "I just prayed to
God. That's all I did. I just prayed."
Hernandez, 39, was a behavior-detection officer tasked with spotting
suspicious activity and identifying potential terrorists, TSA
Administrator John Pistole said. Pistole offered condolences to
Hernandez's wife and children Saturday, spending about 30 minutes at the
family's home. Pistole said the agency would review its policy on
TSA officers are "the first line of defense" in
airport security, he said, pledging that the agency would do everything
possible to make sure Friday's tragedy was never repeated.