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LAX suspect charged with murder, could face death penalty

By Geoff Mulvihill & Tami Abdollah

Associated Press

POSTED:
LAST UPDATED: 02:18 a.m. HST, Nov 03, 2013


LOS ANGELES. >>  Federal prosecutors filed charges of murder and commission of violence at an international airport against the unemployed motorcycle mechanic suspected of carrying out the deadly shooting at the Los Angeles airport.

If convicted, Paul Ciancia could get the death penalty. He was arrested Friday after authorities say he barged into a terminal, pulled an AR-15 semi-automatic rifle from his duffel bag and opened fire. The bullets killed a Transportation Security Administration officer and injuring four others before Ciancia was gunned down by airport police.

The killing was "believed to be a premeditated act of murder in the first-degree," U.S. Attorney Andre Birotte Jr. said in announcing the charges.

Authorities believe someone dropped Ciancia off at the airport, and agents are reviewing surveillance tapes and other evidence to piece together the sequence of events.

"We are really going to draw a picture of who this person was, his background, his history. That will help us explain why he chose to do what he did," FBI Special Agent in Charge David L. Bowdich said.

The suspect appeared determined to lash out at the TSA, saying in a note that he wanted to kill at least one TSA officer and didn't care which one, authorities said.

It's not clear why Ciancia targeted the agency, but the note found in his duffel bag suggested the unemployed motorcycle mechanic was willing to kill almost any officer he could confront.

"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 the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak publicly.

The suspect's screed also mentioned "fiat currency" and "NWO," possible references to the New World Order, a conspiracy theory that foresees a totalitarian one-world government.

Ciancia, who was shot four times by airport police, remained hospitalized Saturday, but there was no word on his condition. He was wounded in the mouth and the leg, authorities said.

Terminal 3, the area where the shooting happened, reopened Saturday afternoon. Passengers who had abandoned luggage to escape Friday's gunfire were allowed to return to collect their bags.

"When challenged, Los Angeles is ready and knows how to respond. This is one tough town," said City Councilman Mike Bonin, whose district includes the airport.

He praised airport police, saying they "saved untold lives" with a swift response that was "absolutely textbook."

The TSA planned to review its security policies in the wake of the shooting. Administrator John Pistole did not say if that meant arming officers.

As airport operations returned to normal, a few more details trickled out about Ciancia, who by all accounts was reserved and solitary.

Former classmates barely remember him and even a recent roommate could say little about the young man who moved from New Jersey to Los Angeles less than two years ago. A former classmate at Salesianum School in Wilmington, Del., said Ciancia was incredibly quiet.

"He kept to himself and ate lunch alone a lot," David Hamilton told the Los Angeles Times. "I really don't remember any one person who was close to him .... In four years, I never heard a word out of his mouth."

On Friday, Ciancia's father called police in New Jersey, worried about his son in L.A. The young man had sent texts to his family that suggested he might be in trouble, at one point even saying goodbye.

The call came too late. Ten minutes earlier, police said, he had walked into the airport, pulled the rifle from his bag and began firing at TSA officers. When the shooting stopped, one officer was dead and five other people were wounded, including two more TSA workers and the gunman himself.

When searched by police, Ciancia had five 30-round magazines, and his bag contained "hundreds of rounds in 20-round boxes," the law-enforcement official said.

Authorities identified the dead TSA officer as Gerardo I. Hernandez, 39, the first TSA official in the agency's 12-year history to be killed in the line of duty.

In the messages, the younger Ciancia did not mention suicide or hurting others, but his father had heard from a friend that his son may have had a gun, said Allen Cummings, police chief in Pennsville, a small blue-collar town near the Delaware River where Ciancia grew up.

The police chief called Los Angeles police, who sent a patrol car to Ciancia's apartment. There, two roommates said that they had seen him a day earlier and he had appeared to be fine.

But by that time, shots were already breaking out at the airport.

"There's nothing we could do to stop him," Cummings said.

The police chief said he never met Paul Ciancia Jr., but that he learned from his father that he attended a technical school in Florida, then moved to Los Angeles in 2012 hoping to get a job as a motorcycle mechanic. He was having trouble finding work.

"I've never dealt with the kids," the chief said. "They were never on the police blotter, nothing like that."

Ciancia graduated in December 2011 from Motorcycle Mechanics Institute in Orlando, Fla., said Tina Miller, a spokeswoman for Universal Technical Institute, the Scottsdale, Ariz., company that runs the school.

A basic motorcycle mechanic course takes about a year, she said.

After arriving in LA, Ciancia stayed on the couch of an acquaintance at the Rancho Los Feliz Apartment Homes for two weeks, apartment manager David Plaxen said. Ciancia was never on a lease.

The attack at the nation's third-busiest airport caused flight delays and cancellations nationwide. Some Los Angeles-bound flights that were already in the air were diverted. As gunshots rang out, swarms of passengers screamed, dropped to the ground or ran for their lives.

Others fled into the terminal, taking refuge in coffee shops and lounges as the gunman shot his way toward them. The gunman seemed to ignore anyone except TSA targets.

Friends and neighbors remembered Hernandez as a doting father of two and a good neighbor who went door-to-door warning neighbors to be careful after his home in the Porter Ranch area of Los Angeles was burglarized.

In brief remarks outside the couple's home north of downtown Los Angeles, his widow, Ana Hernandez, said Saturday that her husband came to the U.S. from El Salvador at age 15.

The couple, who married on Valentine's Day in 1998, had two children.

Friday's attack 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 gunman.

___

Mulvihill reported from New Jersey. Associated Press writers Gillian Flaccus and Alicia Chang in Los Angeles contributed to this report.






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