The gunman who allegedly killed a security officer at Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) carried a note saying he planned to murder “multiple” agents, prosecutors said on Saturday as they announced charges against him.
On Friday, Paul Ciancia allegedly opened fire at “point-blank range” on Transportation Security Agency (TSA) officer Gerardo Hernandez, the first agent killed since the office was created after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the US.
Hernandez’s widow, Ana Hernandez, said she was “truly devastated” by his death.
Ciancia, who used a Smith & Wesson assault rifle and a large stock of ammunition in the attack, faces the death penalty on charges of murdering a federal officer and committing violence at an international airport.
The gun rampage triggered chaos at LAX, disrupting more than 1,500 flights. The airport only fully reopened more than 24 hours later.
Describing how the shooting started, a US prosecutor said Ciancia pulled a “.223 caliber M and P-15 assault rifle out of his bag and fired multiple rounds at point-blank range” at Gerardo Hernandez, 39, shortly after 9am in Terminal 3.
The shots wounded the unarmed TSA officer, but did not kill him. The 23-year-old gunman, dressed in black and wearing a bullet-proof vest, then went up a nearby escalator and came back down to “shoot the wounded officer again,” US Attorney Andre Birotte said.
Ciancia then proceeded further into the terminal, shooting four more people, including two other TSA officers, before being detained after a gunfight with airport police.
The alleged gunman, who remains in hospital and has not yet answered questions from investigators, carried a handwritten note showing he “made a conscious decision to kill multiple TSA employees,” said David Bowdich, the head of the FBI’s Los Angeles office.
“In the note that was handwritten by the defendant, that was signed by the defendant, we found a statement where he made a conscious decision to kill multiple TSA employees,” Bowdich said. “He addressed them at one point in the letter and stated that he wanted to ‘instill fear into their traitorous [sic] minds.’”
The handwritten letter resembled a suicide note, an unnamed law enforcement official told the Los Angeles Times. The note also said that Ciancia did not want to hurt anyone “innocent,” just TSA agents, the newspaper reported.
Birotte said Ciancia was shot four times by airport police and had about 150 rounds of ammunition.
During the shooting spree, Ciancia approached several people in the terminal, pointed his gun at them and asked if they “were TSA,” the Times said. If they answered “no,” he moved on, the paper reported, citing witnesses who said he cursed the agency repeatedly.
The FBI said Ciancia was a Los Angeles resident originally from the eastern state of New Jersey.
Before the shooting, Ciancia texted his younger brother that he might harm himself, the Washington Post reported. This led his father to contact New Jersey police, who in turn contacted their counterparts in Los Angeles.
Los Angeles officers visited Ciancia’s home on Friday, but could not find him, the Post said.