The suspect in the shooting death of a TSA screener during a gun rampage at the Los Angeles International Airport was charged with first-degree murder yesterday, and authorities said he had signed a letter to TSA employees saying that he wanted to "instill fear in your traitorous minds."
Federal prosecutors said Paul Anthony Ciancia, 23, an unemployed motorcycle mechanic, killed Gerardo Hernandez during a terrifying outbreak of gunfire Friday in which three others were wounded before police shot Ciancia. If convicted, Ciancia could get the death penalty.
The source of Ciancia's apparent hostility toward the TSA remained unclear and puzzling to some who knew him. But a statement filed in court by the FBI gave the first detailed account of how the shootings unfolded:
According to the FBI, Ciancia entered the airport's Terminal 3 about 9:20 a.m. and approached the security checkpoint. Pulling a Smith & Wesson .223-caliber M&P-15 assault rifle from his bag, he fired multiple times at point-blank range at Hernandez, who was on duty and in uniform, leaving the screener wounded, the FBI said. Then, after starting up an escalator, Ciancia looked back at Hernandez, who appeared to move. Ciancia went back to shoot him again, killing him, the statement said.
Ciancia then shot and wounded two other uniformed TSA employees and one passenger, before two Los Angeles police officers wounded him, the FBI said.
In a bag that Ciancia had at the airport, the FBI said, law enforcement officers found a handwritten letter, signed by the suspect, saying that he had "made the conscious decision to try to kill" TSA employees.
The gunfire sent panic through the nation's third-busiest airport, which officials said fully reopened yesterday.
Saturday, Hernandez's wife spoke to reporters outside her Los Angeles-area home, describing him as a "wonderful husband, father, brother, son and friend." Ana Hernandez said her husband, 39, had come to the United States at age 15 from El Salvador and "took pride in his duty for the American public."
Still unclear Saturday was what led Ciancia to make the TSA his alleged target. The shooting also raised questions about airport security and the possible mixture of mental illness and weapons.
Allen J. Cummings, police chief of Pennsville, N.J., the 14,000-person town where Ciancia grew up, said Ciancia's father called him Friday afternoon. Paul Ciancia, who had moved to Los Angeles about 18 months ago, sent his brother a text message with "comments in there he was going to harm himself," his father told the chief. Cummings then went to the Ciancia family home and, after seeing the message, called Los Angeles police.
Later, Cummings said, Ciancia's father called. "He said, 'I'm watching TV and I think this is my son at the airport.' "
Ciancia remained hospitalized yesterday after being shot and wounded in the mouth and leg. The FBI said he was unresponsive, and they had not been able to interview him.
A note found in a duffel bag suggested Ciancia was willing to kill almost any TSA officer, authorities said. "Black, white, yellow, brown, I don't discriminate," the note read, according to a paraphrase by a law enforcement official briefed on the investigation. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak publicly. It also mentioned "fiat currency" and "NWO," possible references to the New World Order, a conspiracy theory that foresees a totalitarian one-world government.
With Los Angeles Times and AP