The suspect in the shooting death of a TSA screener during a gun rampage at the Los Angeles International Airport was charged with murder Saturday, and authorities said he had signed a letter to TSA employees saying he wanted to "instill fear in your traitorous minds."
Federal prosecutors said Paul Anthony Ciancia, 23, killed TSA screener Gerardo Hernandez during a terrifying outbreak of gunfire Friday in which two other TSA employees and one airport passenger were wounded, before police shot Ciancia.
The source of Ciancia's apparent hostility toward the TSA remained unclear and puzzling to some who knew him. But a statement filed in court by the FBI gave the first detailed account of how the shootings unfolded.
According to the FBI, Ciancia entered the airport's Terminal 3 about 9:20 a.m. and approached the security checkpoint. Pulling a Smith & Wesson .223-calibre M&P-15 assault rifle from his bag, he fired multiple times at point-blank range at Hernandez, who was on duty and in uniform, leaving the screener wounded.
'I understand [LA police] tried to reach him, but they missed him'
Then, after starting up an escalator, Ciancia looked back at Hernandez, who appeared to move. Ciancia then went back to shoot him again, killing him, the statement said.
Ciancia then shot and wounded two other uniformed TSA employees and one passenger, before two pursuing Los Angeles police officers wounded him, the FBI said.
In a bag that Ciancia had at the airport, the FBI said, other law enforcement officers found a handwritten letter, signed by the suspect, saying that he had "made the conscious decision to try to kill" TSA employees.
The gunfire sent panic through the nation's third-busiest airport and disrupted air traffic there along with the travel plans of thousands of would-be passengers throughout the nation. The airport was fully reopened on Saturday afternoon, authorities said.
On Saturday, Hernandez's wife spoke to reporters outside her Los Angeles area home, describing him as a "wonderful husband, father, brother, son and friend."
She said her husband, who was about to turn 40, had come to the United States at age 15 from El Salvador and "took pride in his duty for the American public."
Still unclear Saturday was what had led Ciancia to make the TSA his alleged target, but there were signs of psychological trouble. According to an account from police in the New Jersey town where he grew up, Ciancia had sent a text message to his brother indicating that he might harm himself.
The message had aroused enough concern to prompt his father on Friday to get authorities to check on him in Los Angeles, where he was living.
"I understand that they tried to reach him," said a neighbor of Ciancia's father in New Jersey, "but they missed him."
The incident also raised questions about airport security and the possible mixture of mental illness and weapons, as well as about Ciancia's state of mind.
According to the Associated Press, in the note found by authorities Ciancia said he wished to kill at least one Transportation Security Administration officer but did not care who.
"Black, white, yellow, brown, I don't discriminate," the note read, as paraphrased for the AP by a law enforcement official who was briefed on the investigation but not authorized to speak publicly.
As described to the AP, the note appeared to contain terms and references often found in messages from antigovernment fringe groups. One of the terms was "fiat currency," AP said. The letters NWO also were used, in apparent reference to "New World Order," a term used by groups claiming the existence of global conspiracies.
The federal government created the TSA to upgrade airport security after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. Over the years, complaints have emerged about TSA's screening efforts, which some air travellers have described as onerous and intrusive.
Ciancia's relatives could not be immediately reached on Saturday.
But little that could be found on Saturday suggested an association between Ciancia and the antigovernment hostility said to have been expressed in the note.
Ciancia grew up in the southwestern corner of New Jersey in Pennsville, where his father owned an auto-repair shop and was known as a pillar of the local community. His mother, who had been a teacher in a Catholic school, died more than four years ago. The town's police chief said he had never had trouble "with anyone" in the family.
-- Washington Post