LOS ANGELES, Calif. – A deadly rampage at Los Angeles International Airport grew from a suicide plan that morphed into a twisted mission to die in a blaze of glory taking out federal officers, the gunman said before being sentenced Monday to life in prison.
In explaining the roots of his rage and offering a half-hearted apology, Paul Ciancia calmly told a federal judge the steps that led from him being “sick of life” to gunning down a Transportation Security Administration officer at point-blank range and wounding two other officers and a teacher before he was shot in the face and subdued three years ago.
“I knew exactly how I wanted to die,” Ciancia stated. “I was going to take up arms against my own government.”
Ciancia, 26, was sentenced to a mandatory term of life, plus 60 years for the Nov. 1, 2013, attack that crippled the nation’s second-busiest airport and disrupted travel nationwide. He previously pleaded guilty to murder and 10 other charges in exchange for prosecutors dropping efforts to seek the death penalty.
Dressed in an all-white jail suit and shackled at the ankles, the diminutive and pale Ciancia stared at the agents he had shot and airport police who sat in the courtroom with black bands across their badges. He offered no apology to them, but he said he was sorry to Brian Ludmer, a teacher who was headed to a wedding in Chicago when he was struck by gunfire.
Ludmer was so appalled by Ciancia’s “bizarre lack of remorse” for the officers and the family of slain Officer Gerardo Hernandez that he decided to address the killer by reading from an eloquent statement he had filed with the court.
Ludmer spoke about the pain he still endures and how he has lost faith in a system that allowed Ciancia to raise so many “red flags,” yet avoid treatment for mental illness and be able to buy an assault rifle.
He then went off script to say Ciancia’s apology meant nothing to him and that he needed instead to apologize to the TSA officers, the widow of Hernandez and the two children he left behind.
“If you can’t see that, if you can’t feel that, your sense of remorse is just as deranged as your actions,” Ludmer said.
Outside court, TSA officer Tony Grigsby, who was wounded, said he felt Ciancia was giving him a “death stare.”
“It’s like he’s inhuman,” Grigsby said. “Seeing him with no kind of remorse made me sad for him.”
Ciancia had shown no mercy for Hernandez on the day he gunned him down as the officer manned a security checkpoint. As Hernandez lay on the floor, Ciancia returned to fire several more shots because he saw him move.
Hernandez was not supposed to be at that station, but he volunteered to relieve a colleague when another officer didn’t show up for work, Assistant U.S. Attorney Joanna Curtis said.
Hernandez was a well-liked officer who was proud of his family and his work, she said.
At moment of the shooting, surveillance video showed travellers and employees in the nearby screening area drop to the floor in unison, Curtis said. They lay still for a moment and then pandemonium broke out as they tried to flee the gunfire, some trying to push baby strollers through body-scanning machines.
“It was chaos,” Curtis said.
Ciancia reloaded at the secondary screening point and shot Grigsby in the ankle and Officer James Speer in the shoulder as they tried to run. He hit Ludmer in the calf.
The unemployed motorcycle mechanic originally from New Jersey said he wanted to kill himself in the fall of 2012. He planned to spend $26,000 in savings and “enjoy … retirement” as he developed the plot over the next year.
He was watching a lot of cable news during the presidential campaign and heard frequent discussion about gun control. After combing a conservative website known for peddling conspiracy theories, he decided to get a gun.
Not long afterward, he said he was hassled by Los Angeles police. He did not give details, but said that incident triggered his decision to take on the government.
The TSA was not in his first or even second choice as a target but while doing research he found it was the most hated agency in America.
“I wanted to make a statement,” he said.
He threw his plan into action Nov. 1 when his money ran out and he was unable to pay rent.
“My retirement was over,” he said.
Judge Philip Gutierrez recommended Ciancia be sent to the Federal Medical Center run by the Bureau of Prisons in Rochester, Minnesota, where he could be treated for mental illness.
Although the sentence carries no chance of parole, Ciancia apparently thinks he may one day be released.
In a court filing, one of his public defenders noted: “Ciancia believes he will get out of prison when the revolution begins.”
This story has been corrected to show Ciancia said he “wanted to make a statement,” not that he “was going to make a statement.”