Rory Carroll, theguardian.com
STANDFIRST: Paul Ciancia wounded in leg and mouth, leaving agents to piece together details of airport spree which killed TSA agent
The man accused of carrying out a shooting rampage at Los Angeles international airport (LAX) remained too wounded to answer questions on Sunday, as investigators pieced together chilling details about the attack and its possible motive.
Paul Ciancia, 23, an unemployed motorbike mechanic, shot a Transportation Security Administration (TSA) agent at point-blank range on Friday. He then rode up an escalator, seeking other targets, before looking back to see his first victim squirming on the ground. Ciancia returned and shot again, making Gerardo Hernandez, 39, a married father-of-two, the TSA’s first fatality in the line of duty since the agency’s creation after 9/11.
The gunman carried a note which said he wished to kill as many TSA employees “and pigs” as possible, without racial discrimination, to “instill fear into their traitorous minds”, FBI special agent in charge David Bowdich told reporters. The note singled out Janet Napolitano, a former head of homeland security, for abuse and cited “NWO”, an apparent reference to a conspiracy theory about authoritarian government plotting a new world order.
Ciancia, wearing an armored vest, used a Smith & Wesson .223 caliber M&P-15 assault rifle to wound two other TSA agents and a passenger in a 10-minute shooting spree which spread panic through the world’s sixth-busiest airport and disrupted thousands of flights.
Airport police cornered him near a Burger King in Terminal 3 and shot him in the leg and mouth, reportedly smashing his teeth and tongue. Ciancia managed to tell officials at the scene that a friend had driven him to LAX but that he had acted alone, according to the Associated Press.
A graphic photo in the New York Post showed Ciancia on the ground with a mangled face and beside pools of blood. By Saturday Ciancia, under guard at hospital, was “unresponsive” and could not be interviewed, said Bowdich. He was charged with first-degree murder and committing violence at an international airport and may face the death penalty.
Authorities believe the friend who dropped Ciancia off in a black Hyundai on Friday morning was unaware of his plan. Ciancia had no ticket or reservation.
Los Angeles police wore black armbands in tributes to Hernandez, the slain agent. He move to the US from El Salvador at the age of 15 and joined the TSA three years ago, routinely rising at 3am for his shift. His widow, Ana Hernandez, flanked by TSA chief John Pistole, told a press conference the family had lost a loving husband and father.
“I am truly devastated,” she said. Later she told NBC: “He was always excited to go to work. He was a joyful person, he took pride in his duty for the American public and for the TSA mission.”
The FBI said it had found no evidence that Ciancia consorted with radical groups but hoped to establish why he had a grudge against the TSA, said Bowdich. “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. At this point, I don’t have the answer on that.”
Ciancia grew up in Pennsville, a blue-collar New Jersey suburb, and was described by former classmates as quiet and reserved. His father owned a successful garage. His mother died of multiple sclerosis in 2009. Two years later, Ciancia graduated from the Motorcycle Mechanics Institute in Orlando, which taught him to fix Harley-Davidsons. Soon after, he moved to Los Angeles.
He struggled to find work. Last week he alarmed siblings with texts suggesting he would would harm himself.
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