A man has opened fire with an assault rifle in a crowded terminal at the Los Angeles International Airport in the United States, killing a security agent and wounding at least six other people before he was shot and captured, authorities say.
The gunfire in Terminal 3 touched off panic and chaos at one of the world’s busiest airports as passengers fled or dove for cover behind racks of luggage and police shouted warnings to travellers and quickly evacuated the terminal.
The shooting occurred around 9:30am local time (16:30 GMT) on Friday.
An individual came into Terminal 3 of this airport, pulled an assault rifle out of a bag and began to open fire in the terminal
Departing flights were halted and arriving planes were diverted to other airports, as streets surrounding the airport were shut down, causing traffic jams for several kilometres.
“An individual came into Terminal 3 of this airport, pulled an assault rifle out of a bag and began to open fire in the terminal,” Patrick Gannon, chief of the Los Angeles Airport Police, told a news conference.
Gannon said the gunman, who appeared to be acting alone, made his way past the screening gates and into a food court area located “very far into the terminal”, where law enforcement officers tracked him down, shot him at least once and took him into custody. He was taken to a local hospital and was said to be in critical condition.
An FBI spokesperson identified the suspect as 23-year-old Paul Anthony Ciancia, a resident of the Los Angeles area.
The airport terminal was evacuated in the immediate aftermath of the shooting, with flight operations severely disrupted.
TSA agents targeted
The US Transportation Security Administration (TSA), which runs security screenings at US airports, said that multiple agents had been shot, one fatally. The slain agent, 39-year-old Gerardo Hernandez, was the first from the TSA to die in the line of duty.
I was in the corner and I'm looking at the guy just shooting randomly
Three male victims hurt in the incident were taken to Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center, where one was listed in critical condition and two others in fair condition, said Mark Wheeler, a spokesperson for the hospital.
Jose Mares, who was catching a flight back to his home in Norman, Oklahoma, with his wife, told the Reuters news agency he was about 22 metres away from a man with a gun on the second level of Terminal 3 when the man opened fire.
Mares, 31, said he used his own body to shield his wife from the bullets.
“As I’m getting on top of her I’m reaching for more luggage and that’s when I stacked luggage like two high and then made a row of luggage,” he said. “I was in the corner and I’m looking at the guy just shooting randomly, like I saw a TSA [agent] go down.”
Mares said when the shooter looked and pointed in his direction and appeared headed toward them, he told his wife: “Once I say three you better run. Once I had the opportunity as he is looking down the escalator, that’s when I told her ‘OK, let’s go. Let’s run.'”