Chaos at Atlanta airport checkpoint: man grabs gun and explodes
A passenger waiting to be searched at Atlanta’s main airport security checkpoint arrived in his bag and grabbed a firearm and exploded, causing chaos among travelers and prompting the Federal Aviation Administration to temporarily halt flights on Saturday afternoon, officials said. The man ran away.
The Transportation Security Administration said the man, who was later identified as a convicted felon, ran with the rifle past the checkpoint and escaped the airport exit. Authorities said it was not an active shooting incident and described the discharge as accidental.
Police later said they had issued a warrant for the arrest of 42-year-old passenger Kenny Wells.
The airport police chief, Major Reginald Moorman, said Wells was wanted on charges including carrying a concealed weapon at a commercial airport, possession of a firearm by a convicted felon, firing a firearm and reckless conduct.
“We are actively following this person as we speak,” Moorman said in a briefing Saturday evening with the Transportation Security Administration and airport officials.
The dump caused frenzy on social media as panicked travelers posted videos on Twitter and other sites showing and describing moments of chaos and confusion at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, one of the country’s busiest.
Authorities said 3 people sustained minor injuries, including one who fell in the airport lobby away from the checkpoint, and two complaining of shortness of breath. Police said they had to control the crowds until things calmed down.
A TSA official said no one was shot.
“We were fortunate that when the firearm went off, no one was seriously injured,” Robert Spinden, TSA director of federal security for Georgia, said at an airport affidavit.
Social media users reported that there were long queues afterwards and some flights were missed. The incident came before the height of the Thanksgiving holiday travel season as people are still dealing with travel concerns safely during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
Although the FAA ordered a temporary halt on the ground, airport officials said operations never stopped and the airport was not closed. They said the airport was back to normal in less than two hours.
The TSA statement said it all started when a passenger was about to undergo a bag search by an official at 1:30 p.m. at the airport’s main checkpoint after an X-ray scan revealed what was described as a “prohibited item.”
“He advised the passenger not to touch the property, and when he opened the cabin containing the prohibited item, the passenger lunged into the bag and grabbed a firearm, at which point he got out. The passenger then fled the area.”
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported that social media users rushed out of the airport amid the chaos after hearing the gun go off. A video posted on Twitter showed people running outside the station, some looking anxiously back.
After Atlanta police gave all apparent normal operations resumed at the airport before 3:30 p.m., the TSA said all passengers should be re-screened.
The TSA said the incident underscores the importance of checking their personal belongings for dangerous items before they leave for the airport. Passengers caught with firearms at airport checkpoints face a civil penalty. The Transportation Security Administration says firearms may be allowed in checked baggage when unpacked and packed into a hard-sided locker bag.
Last month, federal officials reported a rise in firearms seizures at Atlanta airport — part of a record year for the number of guns discovered at airport security checkpoints.
The TSA said it seized 391 firearms at Hartsfield-Jackson Airport in the first nine months of 2021. That was up from 220 last year when passenger numbers were drastically reduced due to the pandemic. But it was also a big leap from 2019, when 323 firearms were seized in Atlanta.
Nationwide, the Transportation Security Administration said it had prevented 4,495 airline passengers from carrying firearms on their flights by October 3 this year, surpassing the previous record of 4,432 firearms captured at checkpoints in the whole of 2019.
And the agency’s news statement last month indicated that the record came despite the continuous decrease in the number of passengers due to the epidemic. The authorities offered no explanation or theory about the sudden rise in arms confiscations.
Hartsfield-Jackson is one of the busiest airports in the country, although other US airports rival passenger screening numbers. Dallas-Forth Worth International Airport ranked second on the TSA’s list, with 232 guns seized by October 3.