LOS ANGELES: Police were hunting for a motive yesterday after a gunman opened fire at the Los Angeles International Airport, killing an unarmed security agent, terrifying hundreds, and sowing chaos at the busy transport hub.
Panicked travellers scrambled to escape after the shooter — identified as 23-year-old Paul Anthony Ciancia — armed with an assault rifle, blasted through a security checkpoint at the airport shortly after 9am Friday.
Ciancia then walked calmly through the terminal seeking further victims. He was eventually stopped when police shot and wounded him.
TV footage showed people diving to the floor at the sound of gunfire and scrambling to escape the terminal. The dead agent was the first Transportation Security Administration (TSA) employee killed in the line of duty since the group was set up following the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.
The lone gunman, who reportedly had a grudge against the TSA, also wounded seven people in the rampage.
But he was still carrying plenty of ammunition when he was arrested, said Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti.
“There were more than 100 more rounds that could have literally killed everybody in that terminal today,” he said, praising airport police. “If it were not for their actions, there could have been a lot more damage,” he said.
While reports suggested Ciancia — who was shot several times before he went down — was a disgruntled loner, the Federal Bureau of Investigation said it could not rule out terrorism.
The shooter opened fire in a crowded terminal of the country’s third-busiest airport.
He “came into Terminal Three, pulled an assault rifle out of a bag and began to open fire,” said Patrick Gannon, head of the airport police.
“He proceeded up into the screening area … and continued shooting,” he said.
Police chased the gunman, “engaged him in gunfire… and were able to successfully take him into custody.” The FBI later named the shooter, and said that he was a Los Angeles resident originally from the eastern state of New Jersey.
Police found a note on the gunman voicing “disappointment in the government” but that he did not want to harm “innocent people,” a law enforcement official told the Los Angeles Times newspaper.
It appeared that Ciancia was hunting for TSA agents. During the shooting spree, which lasted less than 10 minutes, he approached a number of people cowering in the terminal and pointed his gun at them, asking if there “were TSA.”
If they answered “no,” then he moved on, the Times reported, citing witnesses who said he cursed the TSA repeatedly.
Before the shooting, Ciancia texted his younger brother that he might harm himself, the Washington Post reported yesterday. This led the shooter’s father to contact local New Jersey police, who in turn contacted their counterparts in Los Angeles.
LAPD officers visited Ciancia’s home on Friday but could not find him, according to the Post.
Some 750 flights were disrupted after the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) issued a national ground-stop.
Although there was no indication that other people were involved in the attack, the FBI said it could not rule out terrorism.
“It would be premature to comment on a motivation at this time and joint investigators have neither ruled out terrorism, nor ruled it in,” said an FBI statement. — AFP