“Is he captured?”
Those were the first words I heard while disembarking Delta Flight 120 from New York City’s John F. Kennedy International Airport into Los Angeles International Airport. My flight touched down at 9:53 a.m. PST, and by 10:03 a.m. PST, we had arrived at our gate at Terminal 5.
“Is he captured?” a distraught passenger asked a Delta airline official as we exited the aircraft.
“I’m not sure, sir,” she replied. “We’ve been told that all arriving passengers should be on alert.”
That’s the extent of it. No warnings. No advice. No recommended navigational route through the airline terminal.
As we made our way through Terminal 5 to the baggage claim, a group of passengers stopped to look at the arrangement of TV sets inside California Pizza Kitchen. KTLA News was reporting that a gunman was on the loose at Terminal 3 of LAX and that multiple shots had been fired. The target was reportedly a Transportation Securities Administration employee, and the suspected gunman was armed with a rifle.
The security lines entering Terminal 5 were completely empty. I approached three TSA agents huddled around an iPhone and asked them what the hell was going on.
“I think there’s a gunman on the loose,” said the female TSA agent holding the phone.
“Do you know where we’re supposed to go?” I replied.
“I’m not sure. They’ve closed off LAX, so no cars are going in or out of the airport. I’d get out of here—and be careful. Or if you have a gun, please stay here with us,” she said with a nervous chuckle.
So I quickly made way down the escalator to the baggage claim and into the car pickup area. There, hundreds of passengers were milling around with their luggage in a state of utter confusion. There were no updates being announced over the loudspeakers. Everyone appeared relatively calm, but the tension in the air was palpable.
A TSA agent approached me and another woman nearby.
“The only way to get out of here is to walk that way,” he said, pointing to an airport exit past Terminal 6.
I looked at my watch: 10:22 a.m. What followed was quite a sight: a mass exodus of luggage-towing passengers heading toward the road on foot. Three police helicopters were hovering above. And still no update from the TSA or police on the situation.
I approached a TSA agent and police officer who were hanging out on the corner and asked them for an update, identifying myself as a journalist.
“We heard that there was a shooting at a screening checkpoint at Terminal 3, and the guy had a rifle and that he’s been apprehended by police,” the officer said. “We’ve been told that you all should exit immediately.”
Down the road, another police officer was handling the traffic flow as passengers jockeyed to get into a line of blue and yellow airport shuttle vans.
“The suspect has been captured,” the officer said. “But we’ve been told that the victim has died.”
At the same time, reports were surfacing from KTLA and the local CBS affiliate that the suspected gunman was himself a TSA agent at LAX—and that no passengers were being allowed in or out of the airport.