Culver City Edition

False gunfire report causes near panic at airport

LOS ANGELES — Authorities were still trying to figure out Aug. 30 what originally set off the panic at Los Angeles International Airport that was fueled by false reports of gunfire.

Thanks to the chaos of the scare that began Aug. 28, 27 flights were diverted to other airports, but all but one had arrived at LAX by mid-morning, said airport police officer Robert Pedregon.

Three people were taken to a hospital for examination of minor injuries apparently caused by surging crowds as people rushed to evacuate terminals, Pedregon said. Terminals 1, 4, 6, 7 and 8 were impacted, Pedregon said.

According to LAX Public Relations Director Nancy Castles, 281 flights were delayed — 120 arrivals and 161 departures. Two flights were canceled, she said.

Airport staff used audio and visual messages to keep passengers apprised of flights and delays, Castles said. Concessions stayed open past closing time to serve passengers on delayed or diverted flights.

Traffic on the upper departure level was flowing smoothly but traffic on the lower arrival level was still congested early Aug. 29, she said.

“Motorists picking up arriving passengers are advised to wait for free in the cell phone waiting lot at 96th Street and Vicksburg (Avenue) until their arriving passenger calls to say they are at terminal curbside ready for pickup,” Castles said.

Transportation Security Administration and Customs and Border Protection agents were continuing past the end of their shifts to screen passengers whose departure was delayed and those arriving for delayed flights, she said.

Meanwhile, law enforcement continued to investigate multiple 911 calls at 8:45 p.m. Aug. 28 saying there was an active shooter in Terminal 8, Assistant LAX Police Chief Dave Maggard said.

“Some reported hearing gunfire,” he said.

As airport police checked the terminal, there were reports of gunfire in other areas, Maggard said. The airport terminals were evacuated and roadways into the airport were shut down, causing gridlock on area streets.

Officers and teams with bomb-detecting K-9s searched the terminal area but found no indication of an active shooter, he said.

Throughout the event, the public and passengers were kept informed of developments, and a new wireless emergency alert system passed information to cell phone customers within five miles of the airport, Maggard said.

“We are grateful it was not actually an active shooter,” he said.

Just prior to the report of gunfire, police detained a man in Terminal 7 dressed as Zorro, wearing all black with a mask, and who was carrying what appeared to be a sword. Officers searched the man and found a plastic sword.

Maggard said the man works for tips posing for photos with tourists on Hollywood Boulevard, and claimed he was meeting someone at the airport.

Maggard said he did not know if the Zorro character’s detainment and active shooter reports were related. The man was questioned and released.

“We will continue to investigate throughout the day,” Maggard said.

The reports of possible gunshots prompted some people to rush out the wrong security doors, setting off alarms that added to the sense of danger, LAX police union head Marshall McClain told KNX 1070 Newsradio.

McClain told the station some people inside the airport heard loud noises they knew weren’t gunshots, but said it was possible the noises induced some other people to call 911.

Following an intense search of the areas, an “all-clear” was issued about 9:50 p.m., but a logjam of vehicles and people stranded by the evacuations brought airport operations to a crawl.

“Report of shooting at LAX proven to be loud noises only,” Los Angeles police Capt. Andy Neiman wrote on Twitter after the incident. “No shots fired. No injuries.”

All passengers needed to be re-screened through airport security before returning to the terminal, authorities said.

A passenger from Anaheim Hills named Mike said he and his wife were at a baggage claim area in Terminal 7 when they heard orders to evacuate and joined a rush of people crowding onto the sidewalk as uniformed personnel with assault rifles ran into the terminal.

“It was pretty scary,” he told KNX.

Departure and arrival roadways into the Central Terminal Area reopened at about 10:50 p.m. Aug. 28, LAX officials said.

The scare affected air traffic nationwide, as flights in and out of LAX from airports across the country were re-routed or canceled.