Three years after he carried out a premeditated, deadly attack on TSA officers at Los Angeles International Airport, Paul Ciancia is scheduled to be sentenced Monday.
Ciancia, 26, is expected to be sent to federal prison for the rest of his life. He had faced the death penalty until Justice Department officials withdrew their decision to seek death as part of a recent deal with Ciancia that required the gunman to plead guilty to murder as well as the other charges he faced.
The murder conviction carries a mandatory sentence of life in prison, while weapons charges carry a mandatory 60 years; other charges call for many more years.
Ciancia, who grew up in the suburbs of Philadelphia and moved to Los Angeles about 18 months before the attack, harbored an odd, dangerous fixation on Transportation Security Administration officers, who screen travelers at the nation’s airports. Although they are not armed and have little authority, court records show Ciancia targeted them for what he saw as their unpatriotic ways.
Following the attack, investigators found a handwritten note inside Ciancia’s luggage in which he railed against the TSA for its "Nazi checkpoints" and the presumption that "every American is a terrorist." The rampage would be a success, he wrote, if he managed to kill a TSA worker.
"There wasn't a terrorist attack,” he wrote to his sister shortly before the attack. “There was a pissed off patriot trying to water the tree of liberty.”
Around 9:15 a.m. on Nov. 1, 2013, Ciancia was dropped off by an unsuspecting roommate in front of the third of LAX’s nine terminals. He walked through the doors and from a case he had fashioned from pieces of luggage, Ciancia pulled out a semiautomatic rifle he had purchased months earlier.
Instead of shooting wildly into the crowd of travelers, Ciancia took aim at TSA Officer Gerardo I. Hernandez, who was near a podium checking passengers' travel documents before they went on to a security checkpoint on the floor above, according to court papers.
Ciancia shot Hernandez, who fell to the floor, then went up an escalator to the security checkpoint.
Seeing that Hernandez was still alive, Ciancia walked back down the upward-moving escalator, and standing over the TSA officer, fired more rounds at him. Hernandez was shot 12 times in total, according to court papers.
Ciancia then climbed the stairs to the security checkpoint, opening fire on two more TSA officers, who tried to flee alongside panicked travelers toward the terminal’s gate area. Both officers suffered non-life-threatening gunshot wounds and a passenger was shot in the leg.
Moving deeper into the terminal, Ciancia reportedly asked cowering people whether they worked for TSA. Other passengers fled onto the tarmac.
Within minutes, police officers confronted Ciancia, shooting him in the head. After life-saving surgery and weeks of recovery, Ciancia was put behind bars where he has remained since. Authorities recovered a total of 500 rounds of ammunition Ciancia brought to the airport.
Hernandez, a father of two children, was the first TSA officer slain on duty since the agency was created in the aftermath of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks in an attempt to tighten security in American transportation networks.
The chaotic and disorganized response to the shooting by emergency personnel led to a highly critical report on the event that found widespread problems rooted in the failure of various police and fire departments to communicate with each other.
In recent court filings on the upcoming sentencing, prosecutors from the U.S. attorney’s office made vague references to mental health problems suffered by Ciancia that were discussed at length in a sealed report.
“The government does not dispute that defendant has some combination of disorders…and concurs that he has had suicidal ideation in the past,” wrote Assistant U.S. Atty. Patrick Fitzgerald.
Fitzgerald added that Ciancia has shown no remorse for the shooting rampage and remains “resolute regarding his continuing ‘hatred’ of at least certain federal employees.”