Three days after a gunshot set off a panic inside the Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, police are still looking for the man they say brought the weapon through a security checkpoint and then managed to slip away in the ensuing chaos, firearm in hand.
Kenny Wells, 42, is wanted on warrants accusing him of carrying a concealed weapon at a commercial airport, possession of a firearm by a convicted felon, discharging a firearm and reckless conduct, Atlanta Police Department Airport Precinct Commander Reginald L. Moorman said Saturday.
“We are actively pursuing this individual,” Moorman added.
Here’s what we know about the incident that briefly grounded flights at one of the world’s busiest airports:
Discharged weapon sent holiday travelers scrambling for cover
The incident unfolded around 1:30 p.m., as holiday travelers were winding their way through lines at the airport’s main security checkpoint, according to Robert Spinden, the Transportation Security Administration’s (TSA) federal security director for Georgia.
A passenger’s property was flagged for a “secondary search” after an X-ray screening detected a “prohibited item,” Spinden said during a news conference Saturday.
“During that secondary search, the passenger lunged into his property, grabbing a firearm that was located inside, which ultimately discharged,” Spinden said. “The passenger then fled the security checkpoint through an adjacent exit lane with his firearm.”
The incident left three people with non-life-threatening injuries, TSA officials said. A source familiar with the matter told CNN those injured were not shot; they were hurt while the airport was evacuated. The firearm was discharged into the property of the person who brought the weapon, the source said.
All the injured were adults, two of whom were taken to the hospital, according to the source.
“We’re fortunate that when the firearm went off, nobody was seriously injured,” Spinden said.
Witnesses describe panic
Airport spokesperson Andrew Gobeil characterized the discharge as accidental, adding the loud noise created a “sense of chaos.”
That chaos was captured in videos recorded by witnesses who describe terrified passengers running for safety, fearing a possible active shooter situation.
In one video posted by Stephoń Stafford, line dividers are knocked down as people are lying on the ground in an apparent attempt to seek cover as someone is heard shouting, “Get down.” Stafford said he was about to go through security with his child.
Another video shared on Twitter by Haşmet Asilkan from outside the airport shows many people running in a frenzy as someone is heard urging people to run.
Erika Zeidler, who was traveling from Atlanta to Anchorage, Alaska, said she was sitting in a restaurant in Concourse T when people began running down the hallway.
“We thought they were late for a flight, and then more and more people started running,” she told CNN’s Jim Acosta. “There was some screaming and then somebody stopped and said, ‘There’s a shooter, you need to go.'”
Dianne Callahan was traveling with her son and had boarded her flight to New York. She said she heard screams outside of the plane when the crew closed the door. She also heard sirens, Callahan said, and didn’t know what was going on.
“It was an extremely tense situation,” she said. “People were pushing to get on the plane that were not even on our flight. That’s how scared they were.”
Callahan and her son were then sent to go back through security, she said.
Guns pose a ‘huge problem’ for TSA
It is illegal for people to take firearms through security checkpoints at airports in the US, according to Page Pate, a Georgia criminal defense attorney and constitutional lawyer.
According to TSA Administrator David Pekoske, the number of passengers bringing guns to airports has become a “huge problem.”
TSA reports catching 4,650 firearms at checkpoints in the first 10 months of the year — and the vast majority were loaded. That number surpasses the full-year record of 4,432, set in 2019.
At the Atlanta airport, 450 firearms have been detected at checkpoints so far this year, the TSA said Saturday.
“We’ve had many more incidences where there are passenger disturbances both in checkpoints and onboard aircraft. That makes it more important that there are no guns involved,” Pekoske said in an interview.
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