Los Angeles

Paul Ciancia Pleads Guilty in LAX Rampage, Shooting Death of TSA Officer

Prosecutors agreed not to seek the death penalty in the November 2013 airport shooting

ciancia FBI
FBI

The man accused of opening fire at a Los Angeles International Airport security checkpoint, killing a Transportation Security Administration officer, pleaded guilty Tuesday in the November 2013 rampage.

Paul Ciancia entered his plea to 11 felony counts stemming from the Nov. 1, 2013, shootings in the airport's Terminal 3, including the murder of TSA Officer Gerardo I. Hernandez. Three others were wounded when Ciancia, armed with a semiautomatic rifle and dozens of rounds of ammunition, continued firing rounds in the terminal before he was shot in the head and leg during a gun battle with airport police, according to authorities.

The hearing took place in downtown Los Angeles.

Marshall McClain, director of the union that represents airport police officers, said he hoped Hernandez's family members would find some relief as a result of the plea.

"We hope the plea agreement will help Officer Gerardo Hernandez's family heal and brings some closure to them from this horrific tragedy," McClain said.

As part of the plea deal filed Thursday in U.S. District Court, prosecutors agreed not to seek the death penalty, but the murder charge to which the 26-year-old Ciancia will plead carries a mandatory sentence of life in prison. Weapons charges carry another mandatory 60 years in prison, in addition to several years behind bars for other charges.

Federal prosecutors have cited Ciancia's "substantial planning and premeditation." 

The New Jersey native, who had been living in the Sun Valley area of Los Angeles for about 18 months, purchased his weapon almost seven months prior to the attack and concealed it on the day of the shooting by tying two pieces of luggage together to create a carrying case, court papers show. According to the plea agreement, Ciancia sent text messages to his brother and sister while he was being driven to the airport on the morning of the attack. In one, he called himself a "patriot."

"I'm so sorry that I have to leave you pre-maturely, but it is for the greater good of humanity," he wrote to his brother. "This was the purpose I was brought here."

To his sister, Ciancia wrote that he had to "stand up to these tyrants," and asked her not to let the media distort his actions.

"There wasn't a terrorist attack on Nov. 1," he wrote. "There was a pissed off patriot trying to water the tree of liberty."

Witnesses to the shooting said the gunman asked them whether they worked for the TSA, and if they said no, he moved on.

After he shot Hernandez at a passenger ID checkpoint and the officer fell to the ground, Ciancia got on an escalator and headed into the terminal. When he saw Hernandez still moving, Ciancia went back and shot the officer repeatedly, prosecutors said.

Hernandez, a 39-year-old father with a teen son and daughter, was shot a total of 12 times.

Moving back into the terminal, Ciancia shot TSA Officers Tony Leroy Grigsby and James Maurice Speer, along with a traveler, Brian Ludmer, according to invesetigators.

Ciancia continued into terminal but was shot in the neck and leg during a gun battle with airport police. He spent two weeks recovering at a hospital before he was transferred to a federal detention center in downtown Los Angeles, where he remains in custody.

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