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At LAX, 'I really thought I saw death'

  • Article by: JUSTIN PRITCHARD and TAMI ABDOLLAH
  • Associated Press
  • November 2, 2013 - 7:23 PM

– As a lone gunman — toting a semi-automatic rifle and some 150 rounds of ammunition — opened fire at Los Angeles International Airport on Friday, swarms of passengers screamed, dropped to the ground or ran for their lives.

Leon Saryan, 65, had just passed through security and was looking for a place to put his shoes and belt back on when he heard gunshots. He fled with a TSA worker, who he said was later wounded slightly, and managed to hide in a store. As he was cowering the corner, the shooter approached.

“He looked at me and asked, ‘TSA?’ I shook my head no, and he continued on down toward the gate. He had his gun at the ready and but for the grace of God I am here to tell about it,” said Saryan, of Milwaukee.

‘My body went numb’

As Saryan was fleeing for his life, others were hiding behind ticket counters and under tables.

“I really thought I saw death,” said Anne Rainer, who witnessed the gunfire with her 26-year-old son Ben. The pair were about to leave for New York so her son could see a specialist for a rare genetic condition.

They took refuge behind a ticket counter where she said people prayed, cried and held hands. She watched as one person jumped from a second-floor balcony to get away from the gunman. “Adrenaline went through my head, my body went numb, and I said, ‘If I have to go, it’s OK because I’m not going to feel it, but I have to save him,’ ” Rainer said.

Nick Pugh had just handed his driver’s license and boarding pass to a TSA screener and was about to walk toward a metal detector when the shooting began. He dove to the floor. Watching panicked people trying to crawl over one another, Pugh got up and bolted through an emergency exit door and onto the airport tarmac.

‘I just ran’

“I thought with all of the terrorism we’ve had, get away from the terminal where everyone is,” Pugh said. “If there’s a lot of people shooting or a bomb, get away from where everybody else is. I just ran.”

Others fled into the terminal as the gunman shot his way toward them. The attack at the nation’s third-busiest airport began around 9:20 a.m. when the gunman pulled the assault-style rifle from a bag he had carried into the terminal. Airport police were running after the gunman within seconds of the first shots being fired, Chief of Airport Police Patrick Gannon said.

The airport was locked down and its normally packed roads were emptied of cars. Throughout the day, an estimated 1,550 scheduled arriving and departing flights with around 167,000 passengers were affected, the airport said.

After the first attack police, unsure whether the gunman acted alone, escorted travelers out of Terminal 3 as they searched for other possible shooters. Pugh, who had fled onto the tarmac so quickly he had left his ID behind, was briefly handcuffed until it was determined he wasn’t involved.

Rainer and her son were escorted to safety, but they left behind their baggage, which included her son’s oxygen and feeding tube machine.

TSA Administrator John Pistole said, “No words can explain the horror that we experienced today.”

© 2014 Star Tribune