The gunman in a 2013 shooting that left a Transportation Security Administration officer dead and three people wounded will spend the rest of his life in federal prison.
Sentenced Monday was Paul Anthony Ciancia, 26, of Sun Valley, California, in the murder of TSA Officer Gerardo Hernandez at Los Angeles International Airport on Nov. 1, 2013. In exchange for Ciancia’s plea agreement filed with the court by the federal public defender in September, prosecutors halted their attempt to seek the death penalty in his case.
According to court documents, Ciancia legally purchased a Smith & Wesson M&P15 semi-automatic rifle, 10 magazines and 500 rounds of ammunition over a three-month period in early 2013. He later cut two pieces of luggage and zipped tied them back together to create a hidden cavity for the rifle, magazines and ammo that he used to get the weapon through the nation’s second busiest airport to a TSA checkpoint where he then opened fire, killing Hernandez with 12 rounds.
Two other TSA officers, James Speer and Tony Grigsby were wounded but recovered. A fourth victim, Illinois school teacher Brian Ludmer, was shot in the leg.
A note Ciancia brought with him described himself as a “pissed-off patriot” and his “mission” was to kill those who supported the “New World Order.”
“I want to instill fear in your traitorous minds,” wrote Ciancia in part. “I want it to always be in the back of your head just how easy it is to take a weapon to the beginning of your nazi checkpoints. If you want to play that game where you pretend that every American is a terrorist, you’re going to learn what a self-fulfilling prophecy is.”
In text messages sent moments before the attack to family members, Ciancia, an unemployed mechanic who had depleted his savings and had past bouts with suicidal thoughts, railed against the private banking system, the inflation and deflation of currency, quoted Thomas Jefferson, mentioned his battle with sleep paralysis and ended with a statement that he intended to “water the tree of liberty.”
While he intended to die in his attack — and was in fact shot four times by responding officers — the murderer now believes, “he will get out of prison when the revolution begins,” as noted by a court filing.
In a victim statement filed with the court by Ludmer on the lead up to Ciancia’s sentencing, the educator placed blame on the system he felt let his shooter slip through the cracks.
“If the mental and behavioral assessments that the defense published are to be believed, then even a passing glance at his online activity, his relationships with his family, his home life, and his own inquiry should have raised immediate and serious red flags,” wrote Ludmer. “It should have entitled him, forced him even, into the mental health care and monitoring that he so clearly required, and in such care he should have been prevented from ever being able to come near an assault rifle, or from being able to buy bullets online. I’m mad at the system that failed him.”
The high-profile case was the first lethal attack on a TSA employee in the agency’s then 12-year history. In the aftermath of the incident, TSA administrators called for a number of changes to enhance employee safety and security while the employee union has repeatedly asked for adding armed security to their ranks.
Justice Department officials welcomed the news of Ciancia’s sentencing by U.S. District Judge Philip S. Gutierrez to life plus 60 years in prison.
“Today, justice was done on behalf of fallen TSA Officer Gerardo Hernandez, his wounded colleagues and all those who were terrorized by the wanton violence perpetrated by this defendant,” said Attorney General Loretta Lynch in a statement issued Monday. “This sentence reflects appropriate punishment for a heinous crime. It ensures that the defendant can never again harm or murder innocent Americans. And it sends a clear message that the Department of Justice will not tolerate calculated attacks on our nation’s law enforcement officers, and that those who do commit such crimes will be held accountable.”