LOS ANGELES, (Reuters) – A gunman opened fire with an assault rifle in a Los Angeles International airport terminal yesterday, killing a Transportation Security Administration agent and wounding at least six other people before he was shot and captured, authorities said.
The attack set off chaos, with passengers running, diving and hiding in the crowded terminal of the airport, one of the world’s busiest, where Terminal 3 was quickly evacuated. Departing flights were halted, arriving planes were diverted, and streets surrounding the airport were shut down.
“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 said at a press conference.
Gannon said the gunman, who appeared to be acting alone, made his way past the screening gates and well into the secured area before law enforcement officers shot him and took him into custody. His condition was not immediately clear.
Authorities did not name the suspect, but California U.S. Congresswoman Loretta Sanchez, a member of the House Homeland Security committee, during an interview on CNN identified him as 23-year-old Paul Ciancia, a Los Angeles area resident. Sanchez said she had been briefed by authorities on details of the attack.
The U.S. Transportation Security Administration said that multiple agents had been shot, one fatally. The agency did not identify the slain agent.
A spokesman for the Los Angeles County Coroner said it was handling one person who was killed in the shooting, a man approximately 40 years old who was not identified by name. It was not immediately clear if that person was the TSA agent.
A Los Angeles fire department spokesman said seven people were wounded in the shooting and that six of them had been taken to area hospitals.
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 spokesman for the hospital.
The condition of the other victims or the gunman was not immediately clear.
Jose Mares, who was catching a flight back to his home in Norman, Oklahoma, with his wife, told Reuters he was about 20 to 30 yards away from the suspect 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.'”
Witness Alex Neumann, meanwhile, told cable network CNN that he was in an area inside the airport past a security checkpoint when he heard loud noises and screaming and saw people running in a scene that amounted to mayhem.
“We were at the food court and all of a sudden I hear a big commotion and people started running. People were running and people getting knocked down,” Neumann said, adding that he heard screams. “Mayhem is the best way of describing it.”
Television images showed at least one person being loaded into one of several ambulances at the scene, and passengers were seen being evacuated from the area.
Footage showed emergency responders setting up what appeared to be a triage area outside an airport terminal.
“The general public is being held back… Other than arriving flights, flight operations have been temporary held,” airport spokeswoman Katherine Alvarado said in an emailed statement.
President Barack Obama was briefed on the incident and White House officials are in touch with law enforcement officials on the ground, White House spokesman Jay Carney told reporters.
“We’re concerned about it, but I’ll let law enforcement folks talk about it directly,” Obama told reporters in the Oval Office after meeting with Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki.
Los Angeles International Airport is the world’s sixth busiest, handling 63,688,121 passengers in 2012, according to its official website.