LOS ANGELES — The gunman who opened fire inside a Los Angeles International Airport terminal three years ago, killing a TSA officer and wounding three other people, was sentenced Nov. 7 to life in prison plus 60 years.
Paul Ciancia, 26, pleaded guilty in September to the murder of Transportation Security Administration officer and father of two Gerardo Hernandez on Nov. 1, 2013, when he opened fire at LAX, setting off a panic. The plea to 11 felony counts spared him the death penalty.
U.S. District Judge Philip Gutierrez recommended Ciancia be sent to the Federal Medical Center in Rochester, Minnesota, saying the defendant needs mental health treatment.
Speaking in a high-pitched voice, Ciancia made a bizarre, angry statement to the court, blaming a run-in with Los Angeles police, the gun-control debate and cable news networks for fueling his apparent hate for airport screeners.
“I want to take this opportunity to give a very brief account of what led up to all of this,” the defendant began, telling the judge that after losing his job, he originally planned to spend his “life savings” of $26,000 before killing himself.
With TV news channels blaring at home, “continuously talking about the gun control debate,” Ciancia said, he told himself, ‘I needed to get a gun.’”
At about the same time, he was “harassed by LAPD” and “I knew exactly how I was going to die,” he told the crowded courtroom, packed with Los Angeles airport police, TSA officers, survivors and others.
“I heard that TSA was the most hated agency in America,” Ciancia said, his voice rising in anger. “I saw videos of them harassing handicapped people. … I wanted to make a statement.”
Along with killing Hernandez, Ciancia wounded TSA Officers Tony Grigsby and James Speer, and teacher Brian Ludmer.
Ciancia apologized to Ludmer, saying, “I am so sorry. If there’s anything I can do, I hope you’ll write to me.”
Ludmer made a victim impact statement, telling of lasting physical and emotional injuries from the shooting.
“You should be apologizing to the wife of the man you murdered,” Ludmer said. “Your apology means nothing to me.”
Ludmer said Ciancia’s behavior in the years leading up to the attack “should have raised red flags” and should have resulted in mental health treatment.
Ciancia “should never have been allowed to get anywhere near an assault rifle,” the schoolteacher said.
In imposing sentence, Gutierrez referred to Ciancia’s mental health problems and “continued delusions.” He said that Ciancia is “obviously in need of significant mental health treatment.”
While the hearing was taking place, Ciancia frequently turned toward a group of uniformed airport police officers in the audience, staring at them with a smile.
The judge suggested that the defendant be designated “promptly” for incarceration.
Ciancia, an unemployed motorcycle mechanic from New Jersey, intentionally targeted federal airport screeners, whose work stations he called “Nazi checkpoints” in a note found after the rampage, according to court documents.
Describing himself as a “pissed-off patriot,” Ciancia’s goal appeared to be a disruption of the functioning of the government by dissuading federal officers “from the performance of their duties,” prosecutors wrote.
Although most of the court documents dealing with the case have been filed under seal, some papers that are available offer a glimpse of the assessment of those who have examined the defendant.
One document makes reference to Ciancia’s apparently documented history of killing “insects and animals,” committing “violence towards both animals and people while in the community” and “preoccupation with violent content.”
Ciancia’s apparent killing of a goose is also discussed.
Both sides agree that Ciancia suffers from a variety of mental health issues and has a preoccupation with suicide.
The designation of a medical center was seen as a win for the defense.
Ciancia walked into Terminal 3 at LAX and opened fire with a semiautomatic rifle while carrying dozens of rounds of ammunition, along with a signed handwritten note saying he wanted to kill TSA agents and “instill fear in your traitorous minds.”
Witnesses to the shooting said the gunman asked them whether they worked for the TSA, and if they said no, he moved on.
Ciancia, who had been living in the Sun Valley area of Los Angeles for about 18 months, was shot in the neck and leg during a gun battle with airport police.
Federal prosecutors cited “substantial planning and premeditation.”
Ciancia 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, according to court records.
On the day of the rampage, Ciancia sent text messages to his brother and sister in which he called himself a “patriot.”
“I’m so sorry that I have to leave you prematurely, 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.”
In previous court appearances, the defendant has shown no reaction to the proceedings. Perhaps an expert’s assessment, described in a defense document, suggests a reason.
“Ciancia believes he will get out of prison when the revolution begins,” it says.