Los Angeles Airport Shooting Leaves One TSA Officer Dead

A gunman opened fire with an assault weapon at Los Angeles International Airport this morning, resulting in a shootout that killed a Transportation Security Administration agent.

Police traded gunfire with the suspect before taking him into custody, authorities said. Several TSA officers were shot, one fatally, the agency said in a statement. Six people were sent to area hospitals, said James Featherstone, interim Los Angeles fire chief. Officials halted departures from the airport, stranding thousands, evacuated terminals and closed nearby freeway exits.

Witnesses described bedlam when the shooting broke out at 9:20 a.m. local time in Terminal 3, where JetBlue Airways Corp. and Virgin America Inc. are housed. Nick Pugh, 46, of nearby Long Beach, was there to board a Virgin America flight to John F. Kennedy Airport to watch his brother run in the New York City marathon. He said he heard eight to 10 shots.

“Everybody dropped to the ground almost instantly and started wiggling around like Army men,” Pugh said in an interview.

The TSA agent was killed in the line of duty, said Tim Kauffman, a union official with the American Federation of Government Employees.

The suspect entered Terminal 3, pulled an assault rifle out of a bag and opened fire, Los Angeles Airport Police Chief Patrick Gannon said at a press conference. He proceeded past the screening area of the airport, exchanging gunfire with authorities, who took him into custody.

‘Lone Shooter’

“We believe at this point that there was a lone shooter,” Gannon said.

NBC News identified the suspect as Paul Anthony Ciancia, 23.

Pugh, the passenger, fled the terminal. He didn’t make his flight, but still hopes to make it to New York by Sunday. “I’m not sure I want to go to this airport again, though,” he said.

Flights heading to Los Angeles are being held on the ground at other airports, the Federal Aviation Administration said on its website. The hold will last until at least 2 p.m. local time, causing 208 flights to be delayed, industry tracker FlightAware.com said. In addition, 63 departures and 58 arrivals were canceled as of 4 p.m. New York time.

While the airport is open, anyone with departing flights should check the offical LAX Twitter account for updates, officials said.

Passenger Delays

JetBlue and Virgin America said its crews were accounted for. Virgin America halted all LAX flights.

“We’re advising passengers to check their flight status,” Sharon Jones, a spokeswoman for JetBlue, said in an interview.

Other airlines at Terminal 3 include Allegiant Travel Co., Frontier, Spirit Airlines and Virgin Australia.

Arriving flights were being held on the tarmac.

Steve Bohbot, 27, of Los Angeles, was arriving on US Airways Group Inc. Flight 797 from Philadelphia with his wife, Melissa, 26, and with daughter Olivia, 1.

“It’s a disaster” said Bohbot, who had just finished changing a diaper on the baby. “We’ve been traveling for 21 hours. We were in Tel Aviv, Israel for a wedding, we flew 13 hours from Israel to Philadelphia, we had a 2 hour layover in Philadelphia, we have been on this plane for six hours.”

Ripple Effects

The airport is the fifth-busiest in the U.S. by domestic passengers, and the biggest carriers are United Continental Holdings Inc.’s United Airlines, AMR Corp.’s American Airlines, Southwest Airlines Co. and Delta Air Lines Inc. For United, American and Delta, it’s a base for U.S. flights as well as a gateway for trans-Pacific routes. Many airlines issued waivers for Los Angeles passengers to rebook without penalty.

JetBlue diverted Flight 287 to nearby Long Beach south of Los Angeles, and Republic Airways Holdings Inc.’s Frontier Airlines sent Los Angeles-bound Flight 405 to Las Vegas, according to the airlines.

Allegiant Travel Co., a discount carrier focused on vacation trips, said a decision would come later today on its remaining flight into Los Angeles.