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New Orleans airport attacker had mental health issues

  • The ramp to departures was blocked off by emergency vehicles at the New Orleans International Airport
    This drivers license image released by the Jefferson Parish Sheriff's Office shows Richard White. The Jefferson Parish Sheriff's office said in a statement that 63-year-old White was pronounced dead Saturday, March 21, 2015, at a local hospital.
    During a press conference the day after the incident, TSA agent Carol Richel shows the gunshot wound to the arm she suffered as she was chased by a machete-wielding man at the Concourse B security checkpoint of Louis Armstrong International Airport on Saturday, March 21, 2015, in Kenner, La.

KENNER, La. » A machete-wielding attacker who died over the weekend after being shot by a sheriff’s deputy who stopped his rampage at New Orleans’ international airport had a history of mental health problems, authorities say.

Richard White, 63, had been shot Friday night as he chased an unarmed Transportation Security Administration agent through a concourse full of frightened travelers — and in the direction of a sheriff’s deputy, who drew her gun and fired three times. White died Saturday afternoon.

Sheriff Newell Normand said investigators discovered White had been carrying a bag loaded with Molotov cocktails but had dropped the bag. He said it contained six Mason jars with cloth wicks soaked in gasoline and that residue from smoke bombs also was found near White’s body after he was shot.

"Fortunately, he didn’t seriously injure anybody," said Normand, speaking Saturday at a news conference at the Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport. He is sheriff of Jefferson Parish, a suburban New Orleans district where the airport is located.

Normand said the situation could have been much worse.

"You know, sometimes, the saying: You’d rather be lucky than good. I think we were both last night to the nth degree," he said. "I think we did a lot of things right and positive and caused certain things to happen, but by the same token — one second here, one second there — it could have been a much different outcome."

Investigators are trying to determine the nature and extent of White’s mental health problems and the man’s family has been cooperating with the investigation, the sheriff said. White was a Jehovah’s Witness and had refused "certain types of medical care," Normand said.

Authorities also found smoke bombs and tanks of acetylene, Freon and oxygen in the trunk of his car, Normand said, but investigators didn’t know what, if anything, White intended to do with the materials. Normand said White is believed to be a former taxi driver, but added that investigators are still examining a variety of sources and databases to obtain his employment and criminal history.

The attack opened Friday evening when White sprayed unarmed Transportation Security Administration agents and several passengers in line at the airport security checkpoint with wasp killer, Normand said. He added that the man then drew a large machete from the waistband of his pants and a male TSA agent blocked the machete with a piece of luggage as White ran through a metal detector.

White chased TSA agent Carroll Richel while swinging the machete. They were heading toward Lt. Heather Slyve of the Jefferson Parish Sheriff’s Office, who fired three times as White quickly gained ground on Richel, Normand said.

One bullet apparently went through Richel’s right upper arm and hit White. Her wound was not life-threatening and Richel showed her bandaged arm to reporters at Saturday’s news conference. She credited Slyve with saving her life.

"Officer Slyve is my hero," Richel said.

New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu said a review of security procedures will follow, adding that such is standard after any emergency. He joined Norman and TSA Acting Administrator Mel Carraway at Saturday’s airport news conference.

The airport is owned by the city of New Orleans but located in the suburban city of Kenner in Jefferson Parish. The officials praised the work of TSA officials who helped usher passengers away from the unfolding danger, as well as the law enforcement officials providing security and investigating the incident.

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