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Chris R. Cannella, FDNY retiree from North Babylon, charged with breaching Kennedy Airport security to meet Pope Francis

Pope Francis greets the faithful who came to

Pope Francis greets the faithful who came to see him off as he prepares to depart Kennedy Airport in New York for Philadelphia on Sept. 26, 2015. Credit: Newsday / John Paraskevas

A retired New York City firefighter who wanted to meet Pope Francis breached security at Kennedy Airport Saturday, hours after the pontiff had left New York for Philadelphia, authorities said.

Chris R. Cannella, 39, of North Babylon entered the tarmac, a secured area of the airport, by following a UN diplomatic convoy, according to the criminal complaint filed by the Queens district attorney's office. At the security gate, Post S, he flashed what the guard said looked like a police badge and was allowed in.

Authorities said Cannella was "trying to give the pope his business card, and that he wants to talk to world leaders to effectuate change."

Cannella was arraigned Monday in Queens on a dozen charges, including impersonating a police or a federal law enforcement officer and illegal possession of ammunition. Port Authority police said they found a 9-mm magazine containing five hollow-point bullets in the rear of Cannella's black Chevrolet Tahoe sport utility vehicle, which appears similar to those used by the Secret Service to ferry important guests.

Scott Bookstein of Kew Gardens, Cannella's attorney, said his client, who has not been arrested before, is not charged with injuring or threatening anyone. Cannella's niece died of cancer recently, Bookstein said, and the loss has impacted his judgment.

"This gentleman is not a threat. He's not a danger," Bookstein said. "He's someone who is going through an emotionally difficult time."

Calls to Cannella's home in North Babylon and cellphone were not returned.

Bookstein said Cannella -- who is married with two children -- retired from the FDNY because of an injury sustained while on the job. Cannella was hoping to get a message to the pope, he said.

"They are making a mountain out of a molehill," Bookstein said.

Cannella was arrested when he followed a second motorcade that was entering Post V. A Port Authority police officer, who noticed that Cannella was following the diplomatic motorcade, stopped and questioned him.

Bookstein said he hopes to free Cannella, who is being held with bail set at $500,000.

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