What made quiet 23-year-old Paul Ciancia open fire in the busy Los Angeles terminal that day?
The first day of November 2013 began like any other at Los Angeles International Airport…
Heaving with passengers, at around 9.20am, gunshots tore through Terminal 3.
First to die was Transportation Security Administration (TSA) officer Gerardo Hernandez, 39.
Screams of terror echoed through the building and everyone fled for their lives as gunman Paul Ciancia made his way up the escalator.
But, when he saw Hernandez still moving, Ciancia ran back and shot him again, making sure he was dead.
Hernandez was shot a total of 12 times. Then the crazed killer headed for the food court.
‘Are you TSA?’ he demanded of terrified travellers.
When they shook their heads, he let them go, and continued on his mission.
Minutes later, he shot three other men. Then, just five minutes after his shooting spree began, airport police shot and arrested Ciancia.
It was over. But, with one man dead and three others injured, police were keen to find out who the killer was…Paul Ciancia, 23, wasn’t known to police.
Growing up in Pennsville, New Jersey, he was a loner at school, always in the background. His classmates thought him strange and quiet, referring to him as ‘the creepy guy’.
Ciancia’s father owned a car-repair shop and was a Fraternal Order Of Police member – an organisation of sworn law-enforcement officers.
In 2008, Ciancia graduated from the all-boys Roman Catholic Salesianum School. But, the next year, tragedy struck the family when Ciancia’s mum Susan died. She’d faced a long battle with multiple sclerosis.
Afterwards, the quiet family kept themselves to themselves.
Then, in 2011, Ciancia moved to Los Angeles. But it was quickly apparent to his family that the glitz and glamour there made him miserable. He’d send them angry, rambling texts…
Ciancia spoke of his hatred and anger at the government. His family was concerned he was suicidal.
On his way to the airport on 1 November, Ciancia texted his brother…
I’m so sorry that I have to leave you prematurely, but it is for the greater good of humanity. This was the purpose I was brought here.
And to his sister, he texted: There wasn’t a terrorist attack on 1 Nov. There was a p*ssed-off patriot trying to water the tree of liberty.
Worried, Ciancia’s family contacted the police.
Officers made their way to his apartment, but he’d already left for the airport, having asked his roommate – who believed he was going on a trip to visit family – to give him a lift.
Ciancia concealed his semi-automatic rifle and 500 rounds of ammunition in two pieces of luggage he’d lashed together with cable ties.
After killing Hernandez, Ciancia then went on to shoot two more TSA officers and a teacher who was catching a flight to go to a wedding.
The attack ended when Ciancia was shot in the face by police.
He survived, and was arrested. But nobody could understand why the shy, awkward young man wanted to kill TSA officers.
In September last year, in order to avoid the death penalty, Paul Ciancia, 26, appeared in court, pleading guilty to murder and 10 other charges, including attempted murder and violence at an international airport.
In court, Ciancia explained he’d wanted to commit suicide before the shootings, but that he’d decided first to spend the remainder of his life savings.
During this time, he said he became interested in the debate over gun control, and concluded, ‘I need to get a gun.’
He alluded to an incident when, he claimed, he was harassed by LA police, saying this set him on a path to violence.
‘I knew exactly how I was going to die. I was going to take up arms against my own government,’ he said in court.
He focused his anger on the TSA, he said, in the belief its officers were harassing people, including the disabled.
‘I wanted to make a statement,’ he said in court, his voice rising.
Ciancia smirked at times as a member of the prosecution team spoke about the effect the shooting had had on the victims’ lives.
In November, Ciancia was sentenced to life imprisonment without possibility of parole. People who knew him were stunned that a quiet, shy man could be capable of such a vicious crime.
Had the grief of his mother’s death, coupled with years of feeling like an outcast, pushed him over the edge?
Whatever the reason, his name will be remembered for the most despicable of reasons.
In a note found by police in his bag, Ciancia wrote, I want it to always be in the back of your head just how easy it is to take a weapon to the beginning of your Nazi checkpoints.
If you want to play that game where you pretend that every American is a terrorist, you’re going to learn what a self-fulfilling prophecy is… If you made the conscious decision to put on a TSA costume and violate people’s rights this morning, I made the conscious decision to try to kill you.
Ciancia signed the note with his name and P*ssed-off patriot.