LAX shooting: Charges filed against alleged gunman - chicagotribune.com

LOS ANGELES—

Federal prosecutors on Saturday filed a murder charge against the alleged gunman in the shooting rampage at Los Angeles International Airport in which a Transportation Security Administration screener was killed.

Other charges related to firing a weapon inside an international airport were also filed against 23-year-old Paul Anthony Ciancia, who was identified by police as the man who opened fire inside Terminal 3 about 9:20 a.m. Friday. At an FBI news briefing Saturday, officials confirmed that Ciancia used an assault rifle in the attack.

If convicted, Ciancia faces life in prison without parole, or possibly the death penalty, authorities said Saturday.

At the briefing, FBI officials said Ciancia's intent was made "very, very clear" in a note in which he "indicated his anger and malice toward TSA officers."

David Bowdich, FBI special agent in charge, said that in Ciancia's  handwritten note, his goal was to "instill fear into their traitorous minds." 

Ciancia remained in critical condition Saturday morning after law enforcement sources said he was shot in the leg and head by LAX police. Because of his injuries, federal authorities had not been able to interview Ciancia, Bowdich said.

Authorities on Saturday were still trying to learn a motive. But a federal law enforcement official briefed on the investigation told The Times that the note found with Ciancia contained a rant against the government and the words “kill TSA."

DISTURBING TEXT MESSAGE

In New Jersey, police and FBI agents descended on Ciancia's family's home in Pennsville Township.

Pennsville Police Chief Allen Cummings said he had been contacted by Ciancia's father before the shooting, prompted by a worrisome text message from the young man to his brother.

The police chief declined to say more about what was in the text message but said that family members told investigators they had no previous indications that Ciancia, who moved to California about 18 months ago, was troubled.

A U.S. official who asked not to be identified said federal investigators were trying to determine if the gunman had been targeting TSA agents in the rampage.

Neighbors who live across the street from the Ciancia family said the father, also named Paul, runs an auto body shop in the town.

"I believe he worked for his father," said one neighbor, Jennifer Pagan, of the younger Paul.

Her husband, Orlando Pagan, said the elder Ciancia had made several friendly gestures since they had moved into their house 10 years ago. When Hurricane Sandy hit New Jersey last year, "he asked if we wanted to take our personal vehicle and put it on his property." The Ciancia property is slightly higher.

TSA AGENT'S WIDOW 'DEVASTATED'

The gunman shot at least two Transportation Security Administration employees, one fatally, said Bowdich. TSA Administrator John S. Pistole traveled to Los Angeles on Saturday to meet with the family of Gerardo I. Hernandez, 39, the screener who was shot and killed on Friday. Pistole also met the two TSA officers who are recovering from gunshot wounds, officials said.

Hernandez's wife, Ana, said Saturday her husband was "always there to help anyone in need."

"We are hurting," she said. "I am truly devastated."

Flanked by TSA Administrator John Pistole, Ana Hernandez said her husband was "always excited to go to work." The youngest of four siblings, she said, Gerardo moved to the United States from El Salvador at age 15 and graduated from Los Angeles High School.

"It's devastating because he was such a great guy," one of Hernandez's friends, Kevin Maxwell, told KNBC. Maxwell said Hernandez was the "very proud" father of a boy and a girl.

Hernandez was one of two shooting victims taken to Harbor-UCLA Medical Center. When he arrived, doctors said it was evident there was no chance of survival.

A round of shots broke into fragments inside his torso and caused chest injuries and debilitating internal bleeding.

"We made every effort to stop the bleeding and get the heart to beat on its own," Dr. David Plurad told NBC News.

TSA Administrator Pistole, who appeared outside the Hernandez home with Ana, called the incident "a senseless tragedy."

"This is a time of great reflecting for us," he said.

Pistole said officials will be examining their policies and assessing them, though he acknowledged: "We can't guard against all threats and all risks."

Los Angeles police officers will be wearing black mourning bands in memory of Hernandez, ChiefCharlie Beck of Los Angeles Police Department said on Twitter.

Meanwhile the airport said its 100-foot pylons would light the night blue through Sunday in Hernandez's honor.

Hernandez is the first TSA officer killed in the line of duty since the agency was created 69 days after the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks.

“No words can explain the horror that we experienced today when a shooter took the life of a member of our family and injured two TSA officers at Los Angeles International Airport,” Pistole said in a letter to TSA employees sent on Friday.

Authorities said that during the rampage, Ciancia approached several people cowering in the  terminal, pointed the gun at them and asked if they “were TSA.” If the answer was no, he moved on without pulling the trigger. A witness told The Los Angeles Times that the gunman cursed the TSA repeatedly as he moved through the terminal.

Authorities said Ciancia was shot and wounded by police in an exchange of gunfire at the airport's busy Terminal 3. He was shot in the leg and head, making it difficult for authorities to gather information, a law enforcement official told The Los Angeles Times.

KCAL-TV footage appeared to show the bloodied gunman handcuffed to a gurney as he was wheeled out of the terminal. He remained in critical condition at Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center as of Saturday morning.

The incident was over in less than 10 minutes but caused chaos at the world's sixth-busiest airport and disrupted thousands of flights across the nation.

Armed with an assault rifle, the shooter touched off panic and chaos at one of the world's busiest airports. Hundreds of travelers ran for safety or frantically dove for cover behind luggage, and loud alarms blared through the terminal.

Traveler Lauren Stephens, 47, said she had just put her luggage on the scale at the ticket counter in Terminal 3 when she heard a series of gunshots. "Somebody just yelled 'Run' at the top of their lungs. ... I just left my bag and I just ran like hell. Everybody ran."

The gunman, a U.S. citizen who appeared to be acting alone, pushed through the screening gates and ran into an area where passengers were boarding flights, before law enforcement officers caught up with him in a food court, Patrick Gannon, chief of the Los Angeles Airport Police, said at a news conference.

The officers shot him at least once and took him into custody, he said.

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