Authorities say 23-year-old Paul Ciancia pulled an assault rifle out of a bag and opened fire at a Terminal 3 screening checkpoint at 9:20 a.m., and then went down a secure area to a Burger King restaurant near the passenger gates.
"Airport police officers were on scene immediately and began to move after that particular individual," Los Angeles Airport Police Chief Patrick Gannon said. "They eventually caught up with him near the rear of the terminal, and that is where an officer-involved shooting occurred."
The suspected gunman was taken into custody after the shootout and remains hospitalized in critical condition. Eyewitness News has learned that he was shot four times, including in the mouth and leg.
Law enforcement sources say Ciancia, a U.S. citizen, carried a note with him that suggested he was anti-government and expected to die in the airport shootout. The note said he believed his constitutional rights had been violated by TSA searches, that he was a "patriot" upset at former Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, and that he wanted to kill "TSA and pigs."
A TSA officer was killed in the shooting. He was identified by a TSA official as 39-year-old Gerardo I. Hernandez. He was declared dead upon arrival at Harbor-UCLA Medical Center, with gunshot wounds to the chest and abdomen. Hernandez had been with the TSA since 2010 and is the first TSA officer to be killed in the line of duty.
Three other TSA officers were shot and injured. They are expected to survive. Authorities say an additional two people were injured, but their injuries may be from trying to flee from the scene.
"I heard gunshots, and we just went down to the ground. And a few seconds later, I saw him coming up the elevator and walked by about 10 feet away from me with his gun pointed," said witness Andrea Trujillo.
In the chaos following the shooting, responding officers initially treated everyone in the area as possible suspects. Cellphone video showed passengers inside the terminal walking with their hands over their heads.
"We had to keep our hands up. They were trying to clear and secure the area. While we were exiting, we could just tell there was a lot of chaos that had occurred before. There's broken glass, there's cops with assault rifles," said Julius Kelly, who was grabbing breakfast at Burger King in Terminal 3 at the time of the shooting. "People were just panicking and fearing for their lives, looking for somewhere to hide."
Eric Williams was standing in the TSA line with his wife when they heard one shot, followed by multiple other shots. They ran through the TSA line, turned a corner and saw the gunman, who appeared to be walking "as if he didn't actually know where he was going."
Williams said as he and his wife ran for cover, as it appeared the shooter was going to point the gun in their direction.
"We essentially proceeded outside to the tarmac and continued to run in fear," he said.
Kari Watson said she was at LAX Terminal 3 with her 3-year-old daughter moments before gunshots rang out.
"All of a sudden we heard people screaming 'Go, go, go!' and I heard a couple of pops that sounded like gunfire," she said. "People were just running, so we left everything on the ground and we took off."
Terry Malloy said he was sitting in Terminal 3 waiting to depart when he suddenly saw people charging down a ramp, and he heard shots.
"Everyone was just kind of, mass panic and running," said Malloy. "It's very surreal. I was just like, 'This can't be happening.'"
The shooting affected multiple flights and left passengers stranded. The airport is expected to be closed for hours. Century Boulevard is shut down, and motorists are advised to avoid the area.
Terminal 3 is the last terminal on the north side of the airport. Airlines that operate out of the terminal include Allegiant Air, Frontier, JetBlue, Spirit and Virgin America. LAX is the third largest airport in the U.S.
Anyone with information about the shooting or the suspect is urged to call the FBI at (888) 226-8443.