LOS ANGELES — The 23-year-old man who authorities say opened fire at a security checkpoint at Los Angeles International Airport left behind few clues as to why he hated the Transportation Security Administration so much that he killed one officer and tried to kill several others. Police on Sunday worked to piece together details from his nomadic existence while he lies unresponsive in a hospital.
Paul Ciancia was wounded by airport security in the shooting at Terminal 3 on Friday morning that sent one of the nation’s largest airports into chaos. Ciancia was hit four times and wounded in the mouth and leg. He remains hospitalized, and the FBI has said authorities have not been able to interview him.
At a news conference Saturday announcing charges against Ciancia, U.S. Attorney Andre Birotte Jr. spelled out a chilling chain of events, saying the suspect walked into the airport, pulled a .223-caliber assault rifle from his duffel bag and fired repeatedly at point-blank range at a TSA officer, killing him.
Investigators said Ciancia, an unemployed motorcycle mechanic, then fired on at least two other uniformed TSA employees and an airline passenger, who all were wounded, before airport police shot him as panicked passengers cowered in stores and restaurants.
The duffel bag also contained a handwritten letter signed by Ciancia stating he’d “made the conscious decision to try to kill” multiple TSA employees and that he wanted to “instill fear in their traitorous minds,” said FBI Agent in Charge David L. Bowdich. Authorities have not said why they believe he made such a decision.
Meanwhile, airport authorities are considering tightening security measures as Rep. Michael McCaul, R-Texas, chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, said he had seen the note found in the shooter’s duffel page and said in it, Ciancia “wanted to talk about was how easy it is to bring a gun into an airport and do something just like he did.”
The attack, however, underscores how difficult it is to completely protect travelers at a massive airport like LAX, where the terminals are open and easily accessible to thousands of passengers who debark from cars, taxis, shuttles and buses on a broad ring road fronting the facility that’s designed to move people along quickly.
“It’s very difficult to stop these types of attacks,” McCaul said on CNN’s State of the Union on Sunday. “And you know, it’s like a shopping mall outside the perimeter, it’s almost like an open shopping mall. So it’s very difficult to protect.”
Federal prosecutors filed charges of first-degree murder of a federal officer and committing violence at an international airport. The charges could qualify him for the death penalty.
The FBI was still looking into Ciancia’s past, but investigators said they had not found evidence of previous crimes or any run-ins with the TSA. They said he had never applied for a job with the agency.
Authorities believe someone dropped Ciancia off at the airport. Agents were reviewing surveillance tapes to piece together the sequence of events.