A shooting at Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) Friday morning appears to have involved a lone gunman with no ties to any terrorist organization.
“At this point, we don’t see any additional threat at the airport,” FBI Special Agent in Charge David Bowdich said at a press conference midday Friday.
Still, the violent disruption scrambled travel plans for thousands of passengers around the country. Those trying to fly from LAX, or who were expecting visitors flying in from other cities, were told to expect “significant delays.”
“All flights at LAX today will be significantly affected,” airport officials tweeted. (Check @lax_official for the latest information.) Some inbound flights were diverted to nearby Ontario Airport. JetBlue flights began operating to and from Long Beach Airport. Delta was issuing travel waivers for its customers.
Two hours after the sound of gunfire sent travelers at the airport diving for cover, as flights to and from Los Angeles were held on the ground on a busy travel day, authorities reported that three TSA employees had been shot and one of those had died.
As pieced together in early reports citing eye witnesses and security personnel, the shooter – identified only as a US citizen with an airline ticket – had parked his car at the airport, ran up an escalator into Terminal 3, pulled an assault-type rifle from a bag, and began firing as he approached the terminal area where passengers must first show their tickets and government-issued identification before having their luggage and themselves checked by TSA. Witnesses say they heard eight to 10 shots.
In all, seven people were injured, six of whom were taken to hospitals. Armed law enforcement personnel then tracked the shooter through the terminal. There was an exchange of gunfire near a Burger King restaurant; the shooter was shot and taken into custody.
Some passengers who already had cleared security rushed onto the tarmac to evacuate, while others were locked down in airport restaurants and lounges, the Associated Press reported. The airport was being swept as a precaution, and the bomb unit was on scene.
Evacuated passengers were loaded onto buses by the dozens, while others decided to walk off the airport grounds. People trailing rolling suitcases were seen on the normally quiet streets and sidewalks outside LAX.
At the airport press conference, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, LAX Police Chief Patrick Gannon, Los Angeles Police Chief Charles Beck, Special Agent Bowdich, and others noted the fluidity of the investigation, which is being led by the FBI.
In its live blog on the incident, the Los Angeles Times had quoted anonymous officials saying the shooter had been a TSA employee, and that he had in fact been killed in the shootout with law enforcement officers – assertions that officials at the press conference refused to comment on. The LA Times later updated its report to say that the shooter was alive but in critical condition.
Unconfirmed at this time is this report by NBC News: “The gunman, identified by law-enforcement officials as 23-year-old Paul Anthony Ciancia, was shot by law enforcement and taken into custody in critical condition. The motive is not clear but it's believed he had anti-government views based on written materials he was carrying, the officials said.”
Officials emphasized that security had not been breached – the shooting began before the gunmen would have gone through any TSA checkpoints – and that the response by unarmed TSA personnel who confronted the individual and by armed security personnel was exactly as called for in training for such incidents.
"The situation at LAX is very fluid," the FAA said in a statement. "There is currently a ground stop for flights that are scheduled to depart for LAX. This means those flights are temporarily being held at their departure airports. Arrivals and departures are still occurring, and some flights may be diverted. The FAA is closely monitoring the situation and making adjustments to arrival and departure flows as needed. Passengers should contact their airline to determine the status of their flight."
In a statement, the White House said President Obama had been informed of the incident: "The President has been briefed about the shooting at LAX. We will continue to stay in touch with our federal and local partners. The LAPD is leading the response and investigation. We urge citizens to listen to the authorities and follow directions from the first responders on site. The President will continue to receive briefings throughout the day.”