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LOS ANGELES (AP) — A man carrying a note that said he wanted to "kill TSA" pulled a semi-automatic rifle from a bag and shot his way past a security checkpoint at Los Angeles International Airport on Friday, cutting down one Transportation Security Administration officer and wounding at least three others, authorities said.
The gunman was wounded in a shootout with police and taken into custody, authorities said.
The attack at the nation's third-busiest airport sent terrified travelers running for cover and disrupted flights from coast to coast.
The slain employee was the first TSA officer killed in the line of duty in the 12-year history of the agency, which was founded in the aftermath of 9/11.
Two law enforcement officials, speaking on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the investigation publicly, identified the gunman as Paul Ciancia, 23, of Pennsville, N.J. He had apparently been living in Los Angeles.
He was wearing fatigues and carrying a bag containing a handwritten note that said he wanted to kill TSA employees and "pigs," according to one of the officials, who was briefed at LAX on the investigation.
Pennsville Police Chief Allen Cummings said Ciancia's father, the owner of an auto body shop, had called Cummings early Friday afternoon saying another of his children had received a text message from Paul "in reference to him taking his own life." Cummings said the elder Ciancia asked for help in locating his son.
The chief said he called Los Angeles police, which sent a patrol car to Ciancia's apartment. There, two roommates said that they had seen him Thursday and that he was fine, according to Cummings.
Cummings said that the Ciancias are a "good family" and that his department had had no dealings with the son.
The attack began around 9:20 a.m. when the gunman pulled an assault-style rifle from a bag and began firing inside Terminal 3, Los Angeles Airport Police Chief Patrick Gannon said. The terminal serves such airlines as Virgin America, AirTran, Alaska Airlines, Horizon Air and JetBlue.
The gunman then went to the security screening area, where he fired more shots and went into the secure area of the terminal, Gannon said. Officers exchanged fire with him and seized him, Gannon said.
As gunshots rang out, panicked travelers dropped to the ground. Those who had made it past security ran out of the terminal and onto the tarmac or sought cover inside restaurants and lounges.
"We just hit the deck. Everybody in the line hit the floor and shots just continued," said Xavier Savant, who was waiting in the security line where the shooting took place. He described it as a "Bam! Bam! Bam!" burst of gunfire.
Savant said people bolted through the metal detectors and ran into the terminal.
"My whole thing was to get away from him," said Savant, an advertising creative director who was heading to New York with his family for a weekend trip.
As police searched for other possible shooters, they escorted travelers out of the airport, which continued operating but stopped some flights from taking off or landing.
Across the U.S., aviation officials stopped LAX-bound flights from taking off from other airports, causing delays around the country. Some Los Angeles-bound flights that were already in the air were diverted to other airports.
At least three other TSA officers were wounded, said J. David Cox Sr., national president of the American Federation of Government Employees.
The officer who was killed was a behavioral detection officer, Cox said. Such officers are stationed throughout the airport, looking for suspicious behavior, he said.
Ben Rosen was sitting at the Starbucks eating oatmeal when he heard gunfire erupt and saw people running in all directions or crouching. He grabbed his phone and tried to lie as flat on the ground as he could.
Police showed up with guns drawn, shouting, "This is not a drill! Hands up!"
People put their hands up and then were led out of the terminal to the adjacent international terminal, Rosen said. As they were led out they saw broken glass from a window that looked as if it had been shot out. Rosen left his bag behind.
Six people were taken to the hospital, the Los Angeles Fire Department said. It was unclear whether the gunshot victims were among them.
It was not the first shooting at LAX. On July 4, 2002, a limousine driver opened fire at the airport's El Al ticket counter, killing an airline employee and a person who was dropping off a friend at the terminal. Police killed the man.