Loose Ends in Terminal 3 Investigation Plague LAX Morale

MAILANDER’S LA-Even though the investigation into the attack in Terminal 3 at LAX two weeks ago is not concluded, LA's media have generally accepted the Mayor's version of a flawless response operation to the attack. But on the ground at LAX, while workers and the public alike remain grateful that the incident did not claim more lives, things are far from settled, as the FBI investigation continues with some unresolved issues still pending.


While the Mayor's office has taken time to launch "a Teddy Bear Drive to collect new stuffed animals that will be given to children at emergency scenes," morale-sagging rumors have emerged among LAX workers in the interim period of uncertainty, including a rumor that one of the injured shooting victims may have been hit by friendly fire. That remains a question to be answered by a completed FBI investigation; however, after two weeks, it also remains a question to which a definitive answer has been slow in coming, causing concern among workers and even some folks in law enforcement.

And also, in a matter with potential political ramifications for the Mayor's office, the Los Angeles World Airport Police Division may have initially cooked the books when it came to calculating law enforcement's real response time to the tragedy, as a response time of "one or two minutes" has more recently become "a matter of minutes."

According to a well-placed source, while Airport security Chief Patrick Gannon claims a response time of a minute or two, it was in fact was closer to three minutes from the time the shooter started firing until he was engaged.

"The less than one or two minutes being touted by officials is from when the actual call came in not the beginning of the shooting," the source tells me. While law enforcement indeed responded with bravery and efficiency, the fact that the shooter apparently had incomplete knowledge about how to handle his weapon may have been the top determinant in the sparing of many lives.

“As this is an ongoing criminal investigation, any questions related to the investigation would have to be directed to the FBI," Sgt. Belinda Nettles of Los Angeles World Airport Police told me in response to the rumor regarding a friendly fire injury, neither confirming nor denying it while the investigation continues. 

Gannon told the Daily Breeze that matters have mostly returned to normal. In an email to his force as well as in statements to media, Gannon has defended his policy of not having officers posted at the checkpoints. I am also told that since the shooting, some overtime hours have been added for increased patrols only for LAXPD, but not for LAPD, who previously worked overtime at the checkpoints.

"The airport chief is holding firm on his decision on not having officers return to checkpoints for the same reason. If he puts officers back it makes his decision look like a bad one....even public safety is highly political," a source tells me. 

While officials project confidence to the public, the securing of LAX, one of the world's busiest airports, has become the subject of much private and political concern in LA City Hall and also in Washington.  The Terminal 3 shootings, compounded with the unusual dry ice bomb incident of mid-October, have raised the visibility of the issue of airport security to a level of higher concern than usual, and a slow investigation may feed rather than forestall this rise, especially among airport workers. 

The Los Angeles Airport Police Division bills itself as "the Nation's premier aviation law enforcement agency."  The Garcetti Administration assured everyone within a few hours of the shooting all law enforcement agencies were "doing a wonderful job" even while offering a paucity of information of solid facts on the ground. Two weeks later, many rumors regarding what happened that morning have been floating freely, some still not categorically denied. 

The Mayor's launching of the children's-themed LAPD Teddy Bear Drive this past Thursday comes at a time when the City has  experienced three multiple shooting incidents in the past year and been recently shocked by the killing of Silver Lake Assemblyman Mike Gatto's father Joseph Gatto in an apparent home invasion incident.  Silver Lake is also the de facto capital of the Mayor's former Council District.


(Joseph Mailander is a writer, an LA observer and a contributor to CityWatch. He is also the author of Days Change at Night: LA's Decade of Decline, 2003-2013. Mailander blogs here.







Vol 11 Issue 92

Pub: Nov 15, 2013