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False-gunman warning panics Los Angeles airport passengers

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    In this Nov. 1, 2013 file photo, police stand guard in Terminal 2 at Los Angeles International Airport after a gunman armed with a semi-automatic rifle opened fire at the airport, killing a Transportation Security Administration employee and wounding two other people.

LOS ANGELES » About 20 passengers, some of them screaming and trampling others, fled through emergency doors and onto the tarmac at a Los Angeles International Airport terminal Monday after someone incorrectly said an armed man was on the loose, authorities and witnesses said.

The "misinformed announcement" near a boarding area apparently stemmed from a police pursuit of an unarmed driver that ended outside Terminal 2, LAX Police Sgt. Belinda Joseph said.

Police responded to an emergency call around 9 a.m. reporting that a man may be trying to commit suicide. They apprehended the man, and the fire department took him to a hospital for treatment of an unspecified condition. But "someone said that there was a man with a gun, which was not true," Joseph said.

Benjamin Horton, a photojournalist who was in the terminal at the time, told The Associated Press in an email that it was clear from people’s reactions they thought it was a dire situation.

Horton said, "People started screaming and I could hear the trampling of a large number of people coming down the terminal. By the looks on people’s faces and the way that they were scattering it seemed to me that people were trying to get away from a shooter by the body language and the way that some were hiding and others were running."

Horton said he hid behind a pillar and saw an elderly woman fall and get partially trampled but didn’t appear to be injured.

Police initially said the rumor was spread over a public address system but later said the announcement was made by someone at the gate area. It was unknown whether an airport or airline employee, a passenger or someone else spread the incorrect information.

Travelers who fled outside were "under observation the whole time" they were near planes, and officers got things under control within 15 minutes, Joseph said.

"They just went outside and told them the accurate information, and the passengers went on their flights," Joseph said.

Horton said he didn’t learn it was a false report until he landed in Hawaii six hours later and read the news.

LAX has been the scene of gun violence before.

In November 2013, a man shot and killed a Transportation Security Administration screening agent and wounded three other people. Paul Ciancia faces federal charges in that case that could bring the death penalty. The New Jersey native has pleaded not guilty.

In 2002, a limousine driver opened fire at a ticket counter, killing an airline employee and a person who was dropping off a friend.

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