TSA Agent Killed, Several Wounded In LAX Shooting

Authorities have identified the suspected gunman — who is in custody — as Paul Anthony Ciancia. The investigation into his actions and motive is ramping up.

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SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon. Things are slowly getting back to normal this morning at Los Angeles International Airport. Yesterday, a gunman blew through a security checkpoint and entered Terminal 3 at LAX while firing rounds with an assault rifle. Police apprehended the suspect, Paul Anthony Ciancia, but not before he shot and killed a TSA agent.

At least six more people were injured. Last night, the TSA confirmed to wire services that the slain agent is 39-year-old Gerardo Hernandez. Mr. Hernandez is the first TSA officer to be killed in the line of duty in the agency's 12-year history. NPR's Kirk Siegler reports.

KIRK SIEGLER, BYLINE: Stacy McClennan was in line at the Air Canada ticket counter yesterday morning around 9:30 waiting for her sister when the bustling Terminal 3 erupted in chaos. There was gunfire, cops stormed into the lobby. Moments later, a wounded TSA agent was hurried past her.

STACY MCCLENNAN: So then the SWAT-looking guys came running through and yelled at us just to get down, so I was back near the ticketing at that point trying to stay out of the way and he shoved me back behind there and said just stay down.

SIEGLER: McClennan says she and a few other people scurried behind a door and huddled in a safe, restricted area.

MCCLENNAN: It's the most horrifying thing I've ever seen in my life.

SIEGLER: As the gunman, now suspected to be Paul Anthony Ciancia shot his way through security and into a corridor leading to the crowded concourse and gates. Airport police officers were in pursuit. The cell phone video posted on the website TMZ shows authorities screaming at people to hit the floor.

(SOUNDBITE OF CELL PHONE VIDEO)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: (unintelligible) on the floor, on the floor now. Let's go.

SIEGLER: In the main concourse, police exchanged gunfire with Ciancia, wounded him and taking him into custody. Los Angeles mayor, Eric Garcetti, said later that the tragic situation could have been much worse.

MAYOR ERIC GARCETTI: The fact that these officers were able to neutralize the threat as they did, there were more than a 100 more rounds that could have literally killed everybody in that terminal today. Were it not for their actions, there could have been a lot more damage.

SIEGLER: Garcetti seemed to confirm the reports that Ciancia came to the airport very well-armed. He also confirmed yesterday that Ciancia's 23, a resident of Los Angeles, who is originally from New Jersey. Authorities at that news conference where the mayor spoke refused to say much else about the suspect, citing the FBI's ongoing investigation.

It has widely been reported that Ciancia's family had contacted police in New Jersey worried about his mental state and a federal law enforcement source tells NPR authorities are exploring whether the suspect had anti-government views based on material found at the scene.

(SOUNDBITE OF SIRENS)

SIEGLER: It was a chaotic and eerie scene at LAX for the rest of the day. This is the country's third-busiest airport and almost all of it was entirely shut down, disrupting more than 700 flights. Hundreds of stranded passengers fanned out onto the normally busy city streets just to the east of the airport. Seven of the airport's eight terminals should be getting back to normal today, slowly.

It's not yet clear how long Terminal 3, the site of yesterday's shooting, will be closed. Kirk Siegler, NPR News.

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