LOS ANGELES (CBSNewYork/AP) — The New Jersey man charged in the deadly shooting at Los Angeles International Airport told authorities at the scene that he acted alone and had been dropped off at the airport by a friend, a law enforcement official who has been briefed on the investigation told The Associated Press exclusively Sunday.
Authorities do not believe the friend knew that Paul Ciancia of Pennsville, N.J., the man charged in the attack, planned to open fire inside LAX’s Terminal 3 just moments later, killing one Transportation Security Administration officer and wounding four others, including two more TSA workers, said the official, who is not authorized to speak publicly about the investigation and requested anonymity.
Ciancia was dropped off in a black Hyundai and was not a ticketed passenger. He was able to respond to investigators’ questions at the scene Friday, the official said.
Ciancia, an unemployed motorcycle mechanic, was shot four times and was under a 24-hour armed guard at the hospital, where he remained heavily sedated, the law enforcement official told the AP.
Federal prosecutors charged Ciancia on Saturday with murder of a federal officer and committing violence at an international airport. The charges could qualify him for the death penalty.
In court documents and interviews, authorities spelled out a chilling chain of events, saying Ciancia walked into the airport, pulled a .223-caliber assault rifle from his duffel bag and fired repeatedly at point-blank range at 39-year-old TSA officer Gerardo I. Hernandez, killing him.
He then fired on at least two other uniformed TSA employees and an airline passenger, who all were wounded, before airport police shot him as panicked passengers cowered in stores and restaurants, authorities said.
The deadly rampage was allegedly fueled by a grudge against the Transportation Security Administration and police. He allegedly carried a note saying he planned to “kill TSA” and “pigs”.
A law enforcement official said in the note, Ciancia identified himself as a “pissed-off patriot,” and said he was upset at former U.S. Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano. He said he thought his constitutional rights had been violated by TSA searches.
The note reportedly said Ciancia had made a “conscious decision to try to kill” multiple TSA employees and that he wanted to “instill fear in their traitorous minds,” FBI Agent in Charge David L. Bowdich said.
Michael McCaul, R-Texas, chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, said on CNN’s State of the Union on Sunday he had seen the note and said that Ciancia “wanted to talk about was how easy it is to bring a gun into an airport and do something just like he did.”
The attack underscores how difficult it is to protect travelers at a massive airport such as LAX, where the terminals are open and easily accessible to thousands of people who arrive at the terminals via a broad ring road that fronts the facility and is designed to move people along quickly.
“It’s very difficult to stop these types of attacks,” McCaul said. “And you know, it’s like a shopping mall outside the perimeter, it’s almost like an open shopping mall. So it’s very difficult to protect.”
The FBI has served a search warrant on a Sun Valley residence where Ciancia lived, Ari Dekofsky, a spokeswoman for the FBI’s Los Angeles field office, said Sunday. Agents are still interviewing people, she said.
Hernandez, a three-year veteran of the TSA, moved to the U.S. from El Salvador at age 15, married his sweetheart, Ana, on Valentine’s Day in 1998 and had two children.
The other two TSA officers wounded in the attack have been released from the hospital.
Among the others wounded was Brian Ludmer, a theatrical technical director at the Las Virgenes Unified School District in Calabasas, Calif. He remained in fair condition at Ronald Regan UCLA Medical Center with a gunshot wound to the leg.
His family declined to comment and asked for privacy, hospital officials said.
Traffic at the airport was brought to a halt as passengers ran for safety.
“Someone let us into a supply closet,” said witness Dana Starfield. “There were about five or six other people there, and the Virgin representatives locked us in the supply closet, and we put a copy machine in front of the door, and we heard a few more booms.”
Scott Greene told CBS 2’s Teresa Garcia that he ran for his life when the shooting started.
“He had his gun trained down like this and he took two shots,” Green said.
Another passenger at LAX said that Ciancia appeared calm as he moved through the airport.
“I though he was just a regular passenger. Very calm, stoic face,” Billy Bey said, “About 100 people were underneath benches around him hiding. So, if he really wanted to continue shooting he could have. I have read since he was targeting TSA so maybe he wasn’t looking for regular passengers.”
The FBI was still looking into Ciancia’s past, but investigators said they had not found evidence of previous crimes or any run-ins with the TSA. They said he had never applied for a job with the agency.
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