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Shooting at LAX

Aired November 1, 2013 - 22:00   ET


ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: Good evening, everyone.

We continue to learn more about the man accused of turning Los Angeles International Airport into a killing ground, allegedly murdering a TSA officer and trying to kill more.

Paul Anthony Ciancia, 23 years old, that is a picture of him. He's badly wounded tonight. Authorities say that along with an assault rifle, he was carrying anti-government materials during his tear through LAX's terminal three.

Reports as well tonight that he sent some rambling text messages to his family prior to the rampage. That is a live shot of his father's house right now in Pennsville, New Jersey, at the far southwestern end of the state.

We're waiting to go hear from the family. If and when we do, we are going to bring that to you live. We have also obtained video from inside terminal three capturing the chaos.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Everybody onto the floor now, on the floor now, on the floor!



UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Come on, you guys.


This is crazy, dawg. I got some good video.


COOPER: Crazy indeed, the scene inside in and right here from above, from outside the terminal as an ocean of air travelers fled the gunman.

You can imagine being down there in that stampede. A number of people got hurt in the rush, but sticking around was certainly not an option. You're going to hear from some of them tonight, a lot of eyewitnesses on the program tonight.

But here's what we have learned about today's murder at LAX.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: A major, major incident working here at LAX.

COOPER (voice-over): Los Angeles International Airport 9:20 a.m. local time, the FBI says Paul Anthony Ciancia, a 23-year-old white male, enters terminal three, pulls a rifle from a bag and opens fire.

At the security checkpoint, TSA officers, who are not armed, are shot. One is killed.

PATRICK GANNON, LOS ANGELES WORLD AIRPORTS POLICE CHIEF: He proceeded up into the screening area where TSA screeners are and continued shooting and went past the screeners back into the airport itself.

COOPER: Authorities say after shooting his way through the security checkpoint, the gunman manages to make it all the way down this hallway. They say he's stopped by authorities here near a Burger King in the food court area. Hundreds run for their lives.

CHUCK OCHERET, WITNESS: It was a complete panic. The people were screaming. I saw children crying.

SARAH RICHARDSON, WITNESS: Sheer and utter mayhem. People are tripping over each other on the floor, bags everywhere, crying, screaming.

TORY BELLECI, WITNESS: Everybody started like flying down the hallway. And they were just like jumping over chairs, jumping over people, hiding. And we were kind of trapped at the end of the terminal.

COOPER: Trapped with nowhere else to escape, some passengers run onto the airport tarmac. Others use anything they can to protect themselves.

LINO LINARES, WITNESS: Second shots went in. And then I just grabbed luggage and started making walls and walls out of luggages. And I could see the guy IS walking towards the escalator. And he's just pointing down.

COOPER: After making it hundreds of feet into the terminal, the gunman is shot by police multiple times in the chest and lives.

GANNON: Los Angeles Airport Police responded immediately to the calls. They tracked the individual through the airport and engaged him in gunfire in terminal three and were able to successfully take him into custody.

COOPER: His motive is still unclear, but what is known is the gunman intended to cause much more destruction. Sources say he had three magazines of ammunition for his assault rifle.

(END VIDEOTAPE) COOPER: Well, as we said, we are getting new details about the alleged killer, including items that might -- and we say might -- speak to a motive for today's rampage.

Deborah Feyerick joins us now with details.

What are we learning right now?

DEBORAH FEYERICK, CNN CORRESPONDENT: We're learning that apparently he was targeting TSA agents. And we know that because of statements that he made as he was walking down that terminal.

He asked one man whether in fact he was with TSA. When the man replied no, he just continued walking. We're also learning that there were a series of texts that he sent between his father and brother and the texts are described as a cause for concern. They were angry, they were rambling. In them, according to a source, he was complaining about the government, he was complaining about Los Angeles, he was unhappy, he was discouraged. And all of this took place over the last couple of days.

It was enough to cause concern amongst the family. We're now told that search warrants are being executed on homes that he had in Los Angeles, but also a residence in New Jersey as well where his father lives -- Anderson.

COOPER: What do authorities know about or what have we learned that they knew about his background, about why he was in L.A., what his background was like?

FEYERICK: So far, it's so interesting. The shooting happened so many hours ago. Yet there was a Facebook page that he had up, but that was taken down within an hour of the shooting. His sister also took down her Facebook page. We don't know a lot about this young man, just that he's 23 years old, had gone out to Los Angeles, don't know how long he had been there for.

But again he seemed quite unhappy. He was shot multiple times in the chest, as you mentioned, and he was taken to the Ronald Reagan UCLA hospital. He's described as being in critical condition, Anderson.

COOPER: All right, Deborah, appreciate the update. Thanks.

Kyung Lah joins is at LAX. She joins us now with more.

Air travel resumed at LAX this evening. Is there still a huge backlog from the grounded flights?


If you think what the stoppage looked like here at LAX, Anderson, it was five-and-a-half-hours where nothing was taking off, landing, with the exception of some airplanes that were right above Los Angeles. So that's 76,000 passengers that simply had their air travel disappear. So they're here at the airport trying to figure out how to get in or out.

And then you have the passengers who are normally traveling. So, yes, there is absolutely a backlog. It is a huge mess here at Los Angeles tonight.

COOPER: Yes, it looks just -- it looks dreadful. How are people handling the delays? What are people saying to you?

LAH: It's a bit of a mixed bag. People inside have been very, very civil while this was all unfolding. They're trying to be collaborative, trying to remember that this was a very serious incident that resulted in all of these delays.

But at the same time, as people are coming off the planes, and some of these passengers have been stuck on planes five-and-a-half- hours, they're incredibly frustrated because they didn't get any information from the airlines and they said it was quite frightening just having that information.

COOPER: All right, Kyung, appreciate it. Thanks.

Our next guest, Leon Saryan, came face-to-face with the gunman who asked what literally became a life-or-death question. We spoke earlier tonight by phone.


COOPER: Leon, the shooter actually walked up to you. Take us through what happened.

LEON SARYAN, WITNESS: I was -- I had just gotten through the security gates with the X-ray machines. I had my shoes and my belt off. And as I was walking through there, I heard shots. I was just getting ready to pick up my shoes and belt and go on my way and pick up my other stuff.

At that point, we heard some shots, we heard some more shots. And so everybody kind of hit the ground and then people started to run.


COOPER: Did you know instantly it was shots?

SARYAN: I didn't know what was happening and I didn't turn around to look. The shots were coming from behind me. And the TSA agent that was near me urged me to grab my stuff and go.

And he saw that I didn't have my shoes on. So he grabbed the shoes, and the two of us started running down the corridor towards the gate. Meanwhile, more shots rang out. And this agent got hit. I think it was a grazing wound, because he seemed to be OK. He had my shoes.

I went and kind of cowered in a corner. And the shooter was just calmly walking down the corridor. He saw me cowering there. He had his gun and he looked at me and he said, "TSA?" And I just shook my head. He kept going.

COOPER: How did he seem to you? What did he look like? What was his expression?

SARYAN: He looked -- he didn't act like -- you know, it was kind of hard to see the expression. I was more focused on his weapon. It was a rifle, like a -- looked like an assault rifle. I'm not sure exactly what kind it would have been.

But he was dressed normally. He had short hair, a light complexion, just maybe blue jeans or a gray jacket or something like that.

COOPER: And when he asked you -- when he said TSA, did you realize what he meant? Did you realize that, if you said you were TSA, that he would have shot you?


SARYAN: Absolutely. If I had a TSA uniform -- if I had a TSA uniform, I wouldn't be here talking to you.

COOPER: You have no doubt about that?

SARYAN: I'm convinced.

COOPER: Well, it's just -- it's so hard to believe. Leon, I'm so glad things are OK for you. And I appreciate you taking the time to talk to us. Thank you.

SARYAN: Thank you very much for calling.


COOPER: Imagine that feeling, coming face-to-face with a gunman.

You can follow me on Twitter tonight @AndersonCooper. You can tweet using #AC360Later.

There continues to be late developments tonight. We're going to bring them to you as we cover the shooting aftermath and the investigation. We will be right back.


COOPER: We're back with tonight's breaking news, the shooting at LAX.

It's one of the nation's busiest airports. This morning, terminal three was packed with people.

Vernon Cardenas of West Hollywood was waiting to catch a flight to Philadelphia. And Tom Lagos and his wife were waiting for their flight to New York. Both saw the gunman and both were caught up in a scene they described as mayhem and pandemonium. I spoke with both of them. Tom was on the phone. (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

COOPER: Hey, Vernon, I understand you were sitting at your gate when everything became chaotic. Tell me what happened.

VERNON CARDENAS, WITNESS: Well, I was -- we were all sitting there. Our flight was delayed.

And out of the blue, you hear all this motion going on. And before you know it, not only can you hear the commotion. You see people running, mad-dashing towards us. And we happened to be at the end of the terminal where there's no real exit. It was a dead end.

COOPER: And I understand you actually saw the shooter. How did that happen?

CARDENAS: Well, after the terminal cleared, because everybody ran to the end of the terminal, and once we started hearing pops, gunshots, somebody brave enough opened the door to exit and run out onto the tarmac.

So once that happened, the terminal emptied out pretty quick. And I didn't really want to leave the terminal, because my bag was across on the other side of the gate. And I wanted to stay in view of it. So I stayed by the emergency exit, but didn't leave yet. And then it was like me and another guy in a blue shirt. And that's when the shooter like walked out from behind a wall.

COOPER: And how did he seem to you? What did he look like?

CARDENAS: He sort of seemed like confused, like dazed, like walking around.

He had a gun in his hand or the rifle in his hand. And at first, I didn't see it because he just briefly appeared before he went behind like an advertising board. And then, once he came out from behind the board, then I recognized it was a rifle.

COOPER: And was he saying anything? You said he seemed confused. Was that the expression he had on his face?

CARDENAS: Yes, well, he was just like roaming around like with no place to go.

I mean, he literally did a couple of circles and then walked off. And then once he turned around and sort of looked in our direction, me and this other gentleman just like -- we were already by the exit, so we were just waiting to run out. But as soon as he looked toward our way, he didn't raise a gun or anything. But it scared us enough that we just ran out.

COOPER: And, Tom, I understand you saw the shooter as well. You went back for your wife's purse. And is that when you saw him walking around?

TOM LAGOS, WITNESS: Yes, yes. He may be describing me for all I know. I just heard his story.

But if you can imagine right before this happened, I'm walking back from Starbucks to bring her a cup of coffee. And you see this wave of 1,500 people or so running towards you. And there was a lot of confusion as to what we were running for. I didn't hear a noise or anything.

And so people just started reacting and hitting the floor. And then like he said, somebody opened the door to the tarmac. Everybody went running out. I ran out as well. And my wife said, hey, could you go get my bag? And, again, I went back in. And that's when I saw him walking around. And it's just like he was describing, very methodical, just sort of not really in a hurry, very calm, collected, just kind of slowly looking around, but definitely with his gun pointed out, wearing very baggy clothes, a tall, slender, white man.

COOPER: Tall, slender. So he wasn't particularly like a -- not a big guy?

LAGOS: No, not a big guy, tall, slender, looked young, and again just baggy clothes and the gun was unmistakable.

COOPER: And were both of you interviewed by police?

CARDENAS: No, I wasn't. It was a mad, chaotic scene around the police. So I sort of avoided that, hoping that I would do it later. But as soon as they heard a few stories...

LAGOS: Yes. No, I just got done being interviewed for about 30 minutes by the police. After this all happened, they bussed everybody to another terminal. And there was about a three-hour wait before police came and said, hey, did anybody see anything?

I raised my hand. There was about 50 of us who just got done with interviews right now. And I think they're just about to let us go.

COOPER: Well, I know it's been an incredibly long, difficult day for you, Vernon and Tom. I appreciate you taking the time to talk. Thanks.

LAGOS: Absolutely.


COOPER: Up next tonight, why today's killing marks a sad milestone for the TSA.

Also, investigating any political and global connections. We will check in with our national security correspondent and hear from former Secretary of Homeland Security Tom Ridge.


COOPER: As we mentioned earlier, the TSA officer murdered today is the first employee of that agency to be killed in the line of duty. The TSA is a relatively new federal agency. It was created obviously in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks.

Our national security correspondent, Jim Sciutto, is in Washington tonight.

So, Jim, is there any indication at all the connection to any international terrorist group? I have heard of none at this point.

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: I have been in touch with the National Counterterrorism Center. They see no indications of ties to international terrorism.

They're not ruling out domestic terrorism. They don't see indications of that either. I suppose it depends on what you define as domestic terrorism. He was targeting TSA agents. He had some anti-government literature on his person. He shut down an airport. You could call that a form of terrorism, but they're not calling it that at this point.

COOPER: In terms of the response -- and there's still at this point a lot we don't know and a lot that is still being investigated, but does it seem like the TSA was prepared to handle a situation like this?

SCIUTTO: Well, it's interesting. The airport security just three weeks before did an active shooter training event for LAX. They took over a whole unoccupied terminal at a nearby airport, put 300 officers through an event just like this one.

And many of those who took part today say that training like that made a real difference for how they responded. Now, TSA agents though are not armed. They prefer to leave the shooting, they say, the head of their union says, to the many armed guards that are in that airport. There are more than 2,000 TSA officers, more than 1,000 L.A. Airport police, many of whom are armed. There are DHS security agents there, air marshals. You have got a lot of armed officers in LAX.

And the TSA officers have not asked to be armed, but they are the front line of defense. We saw that today. They were the first ones to face this threat. And one of them lost his life for it.

COOPER: Jim, I appreciate the update. Thanks.

For more on the bigger picture, I spoke earlier with Tom Ridge. During the Bush administration, obviously, he was the nation's first secretary of homeland security.


COOPER: Mr. Secretary, I appreciate you joining us.

As we said, this was the first time a TSA employee has been killed in the line of duty since the organization was established during a time in the Bush administration. What do you make of what happened today at LAX? What are the main sort of points you're looking at or interested in finding out more details on? TOM RIDGE, FORMER U.S. HOMELAND SECURITY CHIEF: Well, first of all, I think you're right. There are still more details to be determined.

Let's be very clear. I think all the other guests have spoken on this. The possibility of an individual coming into a terminal with a hidden firearm is real. And it's something that they're going to have to deal with on a day-to-day basis. There are 1.8 million passengers a day that go through over 450 airports.

And so this is a real challenge that, as I think Tom pointed out, as horrible as the tragedy was, the resiliency and the response mechanisms built in because of preparation and training is something to be lauded, not to take away from the pain and suffering of the family of the deceased. And we have several victims.

But, at the end of the day, there's certain kinds of risks that I think for which there is really no sensible, thoughtful, reasonable, economically appropriate way to abandon or to eradicate. And this happens to be one of them at airports.

COOPER: Yes. I mean, it's already illegal to bring a weapon into an airport.

RIDGE: That's right.

COOPER: So it's not like you can pass another law saying we will make it even more illegal to do that.

For those who think, well, TSA agents, maybe they should be armed, what do you think?

RIDGE: Well, I think it's a big mistake. You have literally hundreds and hundreds of armed police officers roaming every major airport in America.

And I don't think arming another 40,000 or 50,000 or 60,000 people -- I'm not sure how many employees there are -- is really going to -- would have prevented this incident from happening. When the individual removed the firearm, began firing, the response mechanism kicked in.

So I think that -- I personally think that's a very bad idea. This is an unspeakable tragedy, Anderson. And I know we're going to be questioning the motives of this particular individual. But at the end of the day, Anderson, if you and I did this show a week from now, there would probably be 300 or 400 other people dying because of firearms homicides.

And we're not quite sure what their motives are going to be. But this once again speaks to an eruption of interest because of this horrible incident in a public place and a federal employee. Between now and Monday, there will be 50 or 60 people that will never be reported about, there will be no public discussion. It will either be a gang war over turf, it will be drugs, it will be someone with a severe mental challenge that got access to a firearm. And hopefully one of these days you and other folks will make this conversation a permanent part of the civil dialogue. We just have to get about doing it. It's not a news cycle or two and we need to do a lot deeper dive into this. And I'm glad you raised the issue, but again, it's a culture of violence. There are many aspects to it. And this is just one more horrible incident, not to take away from the tragedy. It's unspeakable.

And there's a lot of pain and suffering. But we really have to start thinking a lot deeper and doing a lot more than simply talking about the violence of firearms.

COOPER: And the indication that this person was specifically asking people whether they were with the TSA...

RIDGE: Interesting.

COOPER: I haven't heard -- does that surprise you? Does it...

RIDGE: Well, it's bizarre.

Listen, you and I both know -- let's go back to Timothy McVeigh, Anderson.

COOPER: Right.

RIDGE: We know that there are some people who have turned to violence, God forbid, just awful violence. You go look at Oklahoma City because of grudges or hatred or whatever the evil, the dark side, the emotion in their heart and their head, and that's the excuse and that's the motive.

But, then again, I think in 2010, there were like 12,000 firearm homicides, and the motives were all over the place. So I think we have to be very careful not to just categorize and suggest that this is the only motive we ought to be worried about. I think there are broader issues that have to be discussed here.

But, clearly, if he had a grievance against the government for whatever reason, we're going to find out a lot more about it. But notwithstanding that, that may have been his motive, but I'm not sure you could have done anything to prevent this particular incident from happening.

COOPER: Tom Ridge, I appreciate your time tonight. Thank you.

RIDGE: Always good talking with you, Anderson. Thank you.


COOPER: A short time ago, the police chief in Pennsville, New Jersey, spoke with reporters outside the alleged shooter's father's home.

He said when his brother received these rambling text messages that Deb Feyerick mentioned earlier, that was the first inkling they had of trouble. He said, until then, they had no idea that anything was wrong, that anything might have been leading up to what happened today. The family says they did not know he owned a firearm of any type.

And that's the latest information we have.

That does it for this edition of "AC360 Later." Thanks for watching.