The accidental discharge of a passenger’s weapon in a security area of Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport caused widespread panic Saturday afternoon, prompting a brief halt of departing flights over the busy travel weekend.
The passenger was going through the screening process around 1:30 p.m. when “somebody recognized that there was a weapon in the bag,” airport spokesperson Andrew Gobeil told CNN’s Jim Acosta.
“When either the officer went in or when the passenger went in to get it, it accidentally discharged,” Gobeil said, and the loud noise created a “sense of chaos.”
According to Gobeil, after the gun went off, the passenger “took off and was able to make it outside of the airport.”
Airport officials and Atlanta Police know who the individual is, Gobeil added, because the incident occurred while the passenger was being screened.
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 Acosta. “There was some screaming and then somebody stopped and said, ‘There’s a shooter, you need to go.'”
An investigation into the incident remains ongoing, Gobeil said.
A ground stop was called for the airport for all departing flights, per the Federal Aviation Administration, but was soon lifted.
An Atlanta police spokesperson confirmed no injuries had been reported as a result of the incident.
“There was an accidental discharge of a firearm near the main security checkpoint,” Atlanta police Sgt. Jarius Daugherty said. “Officers are working to determine the circumstances surrounding the incident.”
Details about the weapon or circumstances surrounding the accidental discharge have not been made available.
The FBI and the ATF are “providing investigative assistance” to the Atlanta police, according to a spokesperson for the ATF. The White House is also “monitoring” the incident, a White House official said, referring questions to local law enforcement.
The shooting scare comes as the Thanksgiving travel period is getting underway. On Friday, the Transportation Security Administration screened more than 2.2 million airport travelers across the country — the highest checkpoint volume for a single day since the pandemic began, according to a TSA spokesperson.
TSA Administrator David Pekoske recently told CNN that airline passengers bringing guns to the airport is a “huge problem.” Last month, the agency reported catching 4,650 firearms — a majority of them loaded — at security checkpoints in the first ten months of 2021. That number surpassed the full-year record of 4,432, set in 2019.
Witnesses recount chaos after scare
Witnesses described confusion and disarray as panic erupted in one of the world’s busiest airports.
Zeidler and others took shelter in a TGI Fridays restaurant, she said. Photos she shared on Twitter showed a crowd of people standing on the tarmac beneath a jetway as the incident unfolded.
Greg Romero had just gotten off a flight from Salt Lake City when he heard there was an emergency, he told CNN’s Fredricka Whitfield. Airport personnel “shut off all the escalators and cut off all passengers and turned off the tram,” said Romero, the father-in-law of CNN correspondent Nadia Romero.
“Right now airport personnel is doing a really good job keeping everybody calm,” he added.
A few travelers were “a little bit panicked but more frustrated,” Romero said. “They’re trying to catch flights, to get out of the airport. For the most part, people are just lined up against the walls.”
Dianne Callahan was traveling with her son and had just boarded her flight to New York when the crew closed the door to the plane. That’s when she said she heard screams outside the plane. She also heard sirens, Callahan said, but 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.
In response to the incident, Delta Airlines, which is headquartered in Atlanta, announced it was issuing a travel waiver to assist impacted customers.
“With this, the fare difference for customers will be waived when rebooked travel occurs on or before Nov. 23, 2021, in the same cabin of service as originally booked,” the statement said.
“Delta is coordinating with TSA and Atlanta airport officials to accommodate customers as quickly and safely as possible,” the airline said. “We are also working to proactively accommodate customers who may have missed a flight.”
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