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Aftermath At The Airport: LAX Tries To Turn Back To Business


Los Angeles International Airport is getting back up to speed today with the reopening of Terminal 3. That terminal was shut down on Friday after a gunman armed with a semiautomatic rifle killed a TSA officer. Other victims remain hospitalized. Since the shooting, hundreds of flights have been affected, and LAX was at a standstill for hours on Friday. NPR's Sam Sanders has the latest.

SAM SANDERS, BYLINE: Sophie Pierce is back at LAX today to pick up bags she'd left after being stuck there for hours Friday when a gunman entered Terminal 3 and fired shots.

SOPHIE PIERCE: I abandoned everything but my child in the moment, so I didn't have any diapers or bottles or anything.

SANDERS: Pierce says in the heat of the moment, she was only focused on protecting her child.

PIERCE: We were sitting on the floor in Gate 33 when we heard the shots and people just started screaming and running towards us. And at first you couldn't really tell if there was a fire or an earthquake or kind of what was happening.

SANDERS: Pierce and her young daughter Aurora were supposed to be flying to Newark. She quickly figured out that what she was hearing was a gunman who'd gotten past security and was shooting in the terminal.

PIERCE: Shortly after, people started saying there's a man with a gun. And everyone ran as far down the gates as they could to hide under those rows of chairs.

SANDERS: The suspected gunman has been identified as Paul Ciancia. He's 23 and from New Jersey. After firing shots, police exchanged gunfire with Ciancia, wounded him and then took him into custody. Ciancia is still hospitalized. Since the shooting, more details have begun to trickle out about him. In the bag he is reported to have brought into the airport, Ciancia is said to have had a note containing antigovernment text. Authorities in New Jersey say Ciancia's father called the police Friday, worried about his son's mental state. After that call, police in Los Angeles went to Ciancia's apartment and spoke with Cianci's roommates.

Gary Hankins lives in Pennsville, New Jersey, where the suspect is from and his family still lives. Hankins knows the Ciancias and Paul the suspect. Hankins said the Ciancias are a good family.

GARY HANKINS: It's just tragic. It's just unfathomable, I mean, that something like this could happen. I mean - and here from a small town area. It's sad.

SANDERS: TSA Officer Gerardo Hernandez was killed by the gunman on Friday. The TSA says it's their first death in the line of duty since the agency was created after 9/11. At least six were injured. The scene was chaotic Friday, cars abandoned on the street, crowds of people walking with bags and babies on shoulders, police tape, makeshift barricades, confusion.

This morning, passengers headed to flights set to take off from Terminal 3 could check in there but were flying out of other terminals at LAX. Officials were still gradually bringing out bags and belongings from the terminal, much of it still unclaimed.

But early Saturday afternoon, Gina Marie Lindsey, executive director of Los Angeles World Airports, had some good news.

GINA MARIE LINDSEY: And I'm very proud to say that Terminal 3 is now fully open and operational. Great job by everybody.

SANDERS: Sophie Pierce says she's grateful.

PIERCE: I feel blessed to be here. I feel fortunate that the situation was not as bad as it could've been.

SANDERS: And it could've been worse. L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti says the shooter had over 100 more rounds he could've fired had airport police not subdued him. Authorities are continuing with their investigation, trying to find more clues about any potential motive for yesterday's shooting. Sam Sanders, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Sam Sanders is a correspondent and host of It's Been a Minute with Sam Sanders at NPR. In the show, Sanders engages with journalists, actors, musicians, and listeners to gain the kind of understanding about news and popular culture that can only be reached through conversation. The podcast releases two episodes each week: a "deep dive" interview on Tuesdays, as well as a Friday wrap of the week's news.
Sam Sanders
Sam worked at Vermont Public Radio from October 1978 to September 2017 in various capacities – almost always involving audio engineering. He excels at sound engineering for live performances.