ATLANTA (AP) – A passenger awaiting a search at the main Atlanta airport security checkpoint arrived in his bag and grabbed a gun, which went off, causing chaos among travelers and causing a temporary FAA ground stop on flights on Saturday afternoon, officials said. The man fled.
The man, later identified as a convicted felon, ran with the gun from the checkpoint and escaped through an airport exit, the Transportation Security Administration said. Authorities said it was not an incident with an active shooter and called the discharge an accident.
Police later said they had issued an arrest warrant for the passenger, Kenny Wells, 42.
Airport Police Commander Major Reginald Moorman said Wells was wanted for carrying a concealed weapon at a commercial airport, possession of a firearm by a convicted felon, unloading a gun at a fire and reckless driving.
“We are actively pursuing this person as we speak,” Moorman said during a Saturday night press briefing with TSA and airport officials.
The dump sparked a social media frenzy as alarmed travelers posted videos to Twitter and other sites showing and describing moments of chaos and confusion at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, the one of the busiest in the country.
Authorities said three people suffered minor injuries, including one who fell in the atrium area of the airport, far from the checkpoint, and two complained of shortness of breath. Police said they must work on crowd control until things calm down.
A TSA official said no one was shot.
“We were fortunate that when the gun went off, no one was seriously injured,” Robert Spinden, TSA’s director of federal security for Georgia, said during the airport briefing. Officials did not immediately disclose the type of weapon involved.
Social media users reported there were long lines afterwards and missed flights for some. The incident came before the peak of the Thanksgiving holiday season, as people still face concerns about traveling safely during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
Although the FAA ordered a temporary ground stop, airport officials said operations never ceased and the airport did not close. They said the airport resumed normal operations within two hours.
The TSA statement said it all started when the passenger was about to undergo a bag search by an official at 1:30 p.m. at the main airport checkpoint after an x-ray detected what was described. as a “prohibited article”.
“He advised the passenger not to touch the property, and as he opened the compartment containing the prohibited item, the passenger rushed into the bag and grabbed a gun, at which point it s ‘is unloaded. The passenger then fled the area ”, according to the statement.
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported social media users rushed from the airport into chaos after hearing the gunshot. A video posted to Twitter showed people running out of the terminal, some looking back anxiously.
After Atlanta police gave the go-ahead, normal operations resumed at the airport before 3:30 p.m., with the TSA saying all passengers had to be re-screened.
TSA said the incident underlines the importance for all passengers to check their personal belongings for dangerous items before leaving for the airport. Passengers caught with firearms at airport checkpoints face a civil penalty. The TSA says firearms can be allowed in checked baggage when unloaded and packed in a locked hard case.
The TSA said it seized 391 firearms at Hartsfield-Jackson Airport in the first nine months of 2021. This was down from 220 last year when passenger numbers fell dramatically due to the pandemic. But it was also a big jump from 2019, when 323 guns were seized in Atlanta.
Across the country, the TSA said, it had barred 4,495 airline passengers from carrying firearms on their flights on October 3 of this year, surpassing the previous record of 4,432 guns captured at checkpoints in 2019. .
The agency’s press release last month noted that the record was set despite a continued drop in passenger numbers due to the pandemic. Authorities have offered no explanation or theory for the surge in gun seizures.
Hartsfield-Jackson is one of the busiest airports in the country, although other US airports rival its passenger screening figures. Dallas Forth Worth International Airport was second on the TSA’s list, with 232 firearms seized on October 3.
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