LAX Shooting: Paul Ciancia opens fire at Los Angeles International Airport; TSA agent killed, gunman shot in the face

6:20 PM, Nov 1, 2013   |    comments
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LOS ANGELES (USA TODAY/CBS LA/CBS News) - A lone gunman armed with a semi-automatic rifle went on a shooting spree Friday at Los Angeles International Airport, killing one person and leaving at least six people injured before the suspect was tracked down and taken into custody.

"We have one deceased,'' Capt. Brian Elias of the Los Angeles County Coroner's office told USA TODAY.

Tim Kauffman, a spokesman for the American Federation of Government Employees in Washington, told the Associated Press that the victim who died was a Transportation Security Administration officer. He said the union's information came from its local officials in Los Angeles.

Law enforcement officials identified the suspect as 23-year-old Paul Ciancia, of Pennsville, N.J. Officials said he also spent some time in the Los Angeles area.

Pennsville Police Chief Allen Cummings told The Associated Press that Ciancia had apparently made references to suicide recently. Cummings said Ciancia's father called him early Friday afternoon saying another of his children had received a text message from the suspect "in reference to him taking his own life."

Cummings told the AP that the elder Ciancia asked him for help in locating Paul. The chief said he called Los Angeles police, which sent a patrol car to Ciancia's apartment. There, two roommates said they had seen him Thursday and that he was fine.

Airport police chief Patrick Gannon said the gunman, believed to have acted alone, forced his way past a TSA checkpoint into the heart of LAX Terminal 3.

Ciancia, a U.S. citizen, was shot in the face in the confrontation with police, a federal law enforcement official said. The official, who was not authorized to speak publicly, said the suspect had survived the shooting but his condition was not immediately known.

One TSA officer is the only person confirmed dead, the official said.

"It's with a very, very sad heart that I inform you that one of our own has lost his life today," said David Cox, president of American Federation of Government Employees. "To our knowledge, he was the first (TSA officer) to die in the line of duty."

Cox said three other TSA officers were injured. Cox said TSA officers are assaulted on a daily basis, which is why the union successfully argued against allowing passengers to bring small knives on planes.

The dead TSA officer was a behavior-detection officer, whose job is to spot suspicious activity to help detect possible terrorists, Cox said. TSA has 2,157 total workers at the airport, but Cox couldn't say how many are typically stationed at terminal 3, where the shooting occurred.

Gannon said the shooting began at 9:20 am PT when the suspect pulled an "assault rifle" out of a bag and began to open fire in LAX Terminal 3.

"He proceeded up to the screening area, and continued shooting, and went past the screeners back to the airport itself," Gannon said.

Airport police "responded immediately," he said, tracking down the shooter and taking him into custody.

The shooting spree brought the giant airport complex to a halt, with travelers marooned on buses or sidewalks and police doing their best to unsnarl traffic.

Terminal 3 was evacuated and cordoned off and arrival and departure roads to the airport, in addition to Century Boulevard, were closed. All airport exits from the 105 and 405 freeways were also shut down.

A large box of ammunition was also recovered on LAX property, Miller said. The LAPD Bomb Squad was on scene trying to clear any suspicious packages.

LAPD Assistant Chief Earl Paysinger says the suspect was armed with a semi-automatic rifle.

The TSA actually allows guns to be be transported by air but only after following extensive rules.

Witnesses describe chaos

Dana Starfield tells KCBS-TV that she heard a boom behind her while standing in security line.

"We heard someone scream, 'A gun! Everybody get down, get down!' ... We just crawled through the security gate....''

Starfield said Virgin airline employees guided her and several others into a small room, where they tried to block entry by moving a copying machine in front of the door.

"We heard a few more booms,'' she said.

She said about 15 minutes later SWAT officers came through and led them to safety.

Luke and Alexa Sieber of Green Bay, Wisc., were in line at an airport counter when they heard eight shots followed by another burst of 20.

Witness Brian Keech said he heard "about a dozen gunshots" from inside the security gate at Terminal 3, which serves Allegiant Air, Frontier, JetBlue, Spirit, Virgin America and other airlines.

Passenger Rodrigo Jara told KNX 1070 NEWSRADIO he was waiting in line to go through the security line in Terminal 3 when he heard a loud sound.

"I heard 'pop, pop, pop', and then we fell down, and little did I know, I looked to the side, and this guy's going up the stairs with the rifle," Jara said.

Jara described the shooter that he saw as a white male with blonde/dirty blonde hair possibly wearing khakis, clean-cut, and "walking like he was going to buy tea."

Little info available on the injured

Officials at a news conference declined to discuss injuries in detail, saying only that authorities treated seven people for injuries at the airport and that six were transported to the hospital.

Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center said it had received "three male victims from the LAX Airport shootings. One arrived in critical condition and two are listed in fair condition."

Flights heading to Los Angeles airport were held at their departure airports, according to FlightAware.com, which tracks flights. The airport partially reopened at 1 p.m., but delays were expected to last through Friday night.

Terminal 3 services the following airlines: AirTran, Alaska, Horizon, JetBlue, V Australia and Virgin America.

LAPD Police Chief Beck and Los Angeles Mayor Garcetti rushed to the airport as the drama unfolded.

President Obama has been briefed on the shooting, the White House says.

Other Southland airports, including Bob Hope International Airport in Burbank, are on heightened alert.

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