Source of False LAX Shooting Reports Remains a Mystery

Police say a loud noise might have been mistaken for gunfire Sunday night at LAX

Investigators are attempting to determine what prompted the first of several emergency calls Sunday night that falsely reported a gunman at Los Angeles International Airport. 

Callers reported gunshots, but after a chaotic night that saw panicked travelers running onto streets and the tarmac authorities determined no shots were fired and no gunman was at the airport. The reports were likely prompted by some other type of loud noise, but as of Monday afternoon investigators had not determined the source of the noise.

Airport police Officer Rob Pedregon said the initial emergency call came in Terminal 8 around 8:45 p.m. Sunday. Dozens of 911 calls were made from at least three terminals, according to airport police.

Callers reported hearing gunfire not just in Terminal 8, but in other areas at the airport. LAX Police Chief Dave Maggard said some of the callers might have been reporting what they heard through word of mouth and social media.

Travelers were notified by a wireless emergency alert system, police said. NBC Nightly News anchor Lester Holt, who had just arrived at the airport, said passengers were streaming from the terminal buildings. 

"We were about to walk upstairs when people began flooding out," Holt said. "Passengers, security people... I heard, 'shots fired' or 'active shooter,' 'run.'"

Maggard said it has not been determined whether someone intentionally made the false report to test airport security.

All terminals resumed operations around 11 p.m.

Operations were returning to normal Monday, but major flight delays were reported. Airport spokeswoman Nancy Castles said Monday that about 280 flights were delayed, including 120 arrivals and 161 departures. At least 27 flights were diverted to other airports and two were canceled.

Traffic on the upper departure level flowed smoothly during morning rush hour, but cars backed up on the lower arrival level.

About five minutes before the first 911 calls, officers detained a man dressed as Zorro who was carrying a plastic sword in Terminal 7. The man was later released after telling police he was a performer on Hollywood Boulevard and was at the airport to pick up a passenger.

Investigators found no connection between the two incidents.

The Los Angeles airport had an actual shooting in November 2013, when a man opened fire in the terminal, killing a security agent and wounding three other people. In 2002, a gunman opened fire on travelers near the El Al Airlines ticket counter, killing one and injuring four others.

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