The man suspected of killing a Transportation Security Administration employee and injuring at least six people in Friday’s shooting at Los Angeles International Airport apparently had suicidal thoughts before the attack, authorities said.
The family of Paul Anthony Ciancia, 23, told Pennsville, N.J. Police Chief Allen Cummings early Friday afternoon that Ciancia had mentioned taking his own life in a text message to his younger brother, the chief told The Associated Press.
The family lives in Pennsville and Paul Ciancia is a resident of Los Angeles.
Cummings notified the LAPD, which in turn went to Ciancia’s Los Angeles residence. He was not there at the time, but his two roommates told authorities that he seemed fine, Cummings said. LAPD told Cummings that they would check on him again when Ciancia returned from work.
Forty-five minutes later, Cummings got a call about the shooting.
The TSA late Friday identified the slain officer as Gerardo I. Hernandez, 39. He is the first TSA officer killed in the line of duty in the 12-year history of the agency, which was founded in the aftermath of 9/11.
The FBI said had not yet interviewed Ciancia about the shooting because he was still hospitalized but expected to speak with him as soon as possible.
A note recovered from the bag he dropped at the security checkpoint where he allegedly began shooting described “a bunch of threatening language directed at the TSA and lots of anti-government rants,” federal authorities said.
The exact motive for the shooting, however, remains unclear. Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti said the gunman had an additional 100 rounds of ammunition he did not fire.
The suspect graduated in 2008 from Salesianum School, an all-boys Roman Catholic school in Wilmington, the school said.
Outside the father’s home Friday in Pennsville, a police cruiser blocked the long driveway. Phone calls weren’t answered, and efforts to reach siblings were also unsuccessful.
The shooting, which sent passengers in the airport scrambling for cover, disrupted flights nationwide as planes headed for Los Angeles were temporarily grounded. In all, authorities said, some 746 flights were affected, including those diverted to other airports, held on the ground in Los Angeles or held at their originating airport.
The FAA lifted the restriction grounding departing flights at 7pm ET although Terminal 3, scene of the shooting remained closed.
“I am deeply saddened to inform you that a TSA employee was shot and killed today on duty at Los Angeles International Airport,” said TSA administrator John Pistole in a message to employees. “Other TSA employees also were injured in the shooting.”
J. David Cox, president of the American Federation of Government Employees, which includes the TSA union, told a late afternoon press conference Hernandez was a “behavioral detection officer,” trained to detect behaviors that were “not right, not normal.” Cox said he recently had transferred from Montana to LAX.
Dr. David Plurad of the Harbor-UCLA Medical Center said the officer who was killed had suffered severe gunshot wounds to his chest and abdomen along with a “significant” blood loss.
Los Angeles Fire Department Battalion Chief Armando Hogan said five people were taken to hospitals after the shooting: the gunman, the TSA officer who died, two other people who were shot, and one person with a broken ankle. A sixth person was treated at the scene for ringing in the ears from gunfire. The TSA said both surviving shooting victims are TSA officers.
The attack began around 9:20 a.m. when the gunman pulled an assault-style rifle from a bag and began firing inside Terminal 3, Airport Police Chief Patrick Gannon said. The terminal serves such airlines as Virgin America, AirTran, Spirit Airlines, Horizon Air and JetBlue.
Officials said the gunman pulled an assault rifle out of a bag on the ground floor of the terminal and opened fire. He ran up an escalator to a TSA screening area and continued to fire, officials say. He was tracked by airport police and they engaged in gunfight until the suspect was subdued, officials said.
Witness Brian Keech said he heard “about a dozen gunshots” from inside the security gate at Terminal 3. Other travelers described the scene as airport security staff evacuated terminals, including onto to the tarmac.
“People started saying there’s a shooter, there’s a shooter,” said Natalie Morin, a senior at USC who was heading to San Francisco for a graduate school interview.
President Obama called Pistole to express his condolences to the families and friends of the TSA officer who was killed and the two other officers who were wounded Friday.
Obama also spoke with Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti to express his gratitude for those who responded to the shooting. The White House said earlier the president’s homeland security adviser, Lisa Monaco, briefed Obama on the incident.
Bill Reiter, a writer for FoxSports.com, was at the scene and sent out a tweet: “When gunfire broke out there was a stampede people, all of us hiding under seats we didn’t fit under, we burst through the door to outside.”
Tory Belleci from the TV show “Mythbusters” tweeted: “Heard gun shots then everyone starting running for the door. Not sure if anyone was hurt.”
According to multiple reports the suspect, described as a white male, may have been wearing camouflage when he walked into the terminal and opened fire. News media outlets reported that the gunman appeared to be targeting TSA agents at the security checkpoint, MyFoxLA.com reported.
It was not the first shooting at LAX. On July 4, 2002, a limousine driver opened fire at the airport’s El Al ticket counter, killing an airline employee and a person who was dropping off a friend at the terminal. Police killed the man.
Fox News’ Adam Housley, Shayla Bezdrob, Edmund DeMarche, Karl DeVries, Shayla Bezdrob and The Associated Press contributed to this report.