Atlanta airport: Chaos in Hartsfield-Jackson caused by convicted felon ‘firearm off at security checkpoint’

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The chaos that unfolded on AtlantaThe international airport on Saturday was caused by a passenger who snatched a gun from his bag during security checks and accidentally fired a shot.

The man then fled the security screening area at Hartfield-Jackson airport when panic erupted in the terminals. He was later identified as convicted felon Kenny Wells, according to a statement from the… Transport Security Administration.

The search for the bag was prompted by an X-ray scan that detected a “prohibited item”. A TSA employee took the bag aside for further investigation.

“He advised the passenger not to touch the property, and when he opened the compartment containing the prohibited item, the passenger jumped into the bag and grabbed a firearm, which fired it. The passenger then fled the area,” the TSA statement said.

Police have issued a warrant for the passenger’s arrest and are continuing to search for him.

The airport’s chief of police, Major Reginald Moorman, said Wells was wanted on charges of carrying a concealed weapon at a commercial airport, possessing a firearm by a convicted felon, firing a firearm and reckless conduct.

“We are actively pursuing this person at this time,” Major Moorman said during a news conference with TSA and airport officials on Saturday.

An undated booking photo provided by the Atlanta Police Department of suspect Kenny Wells

(AP)

The incident led to a temporary suspension of flights on Saturday as airport officials rushed to quell rumors of an active gunman in the terminal.

Alarmed travelers posted videos to social media revealing moments of chaos and confusion at one of the country’s busiest airports. A commuter rail connection to the airport was also temporarily shut down as a precaution.

Authorities said three people suffered minor injuries, including one who fell in the airport atrium away from the checkpoint and two who complained of shortness of breath.

No one was shot, a TSA executive added.

“We were lucky that no one was seriously injured when the firearm went off,” said Robert Spinden, the director of the TSA’s Federal Security Service for Georgia. Officials did not immediately disclose the type of weapon involved.

Social media users reported that the incident had led to long lines for security and some missed flights. The incident came before the peak of the Thanksgiving travel season, which is already proving to be more complex for passengers due to the ongoing Covid pandemic.

Although the Federal Aviation Administration ordered a temporary ground shutdown, the airport did not close and returned to normal operations in less than two hours, officials said.

Work at the airport resumed around 3:30 p.m. All passengers had to be re-screened.

A passenger arrested with a firearm is not uncommon, according to TSA figures. In the first nine months of 2021, the TSA said it seized 391 firearms at Hartsfield-Jackson airport. That’s up from 220 last year, when passenger numbers dropped significantly due to the pandemic. But it’s also a jump from 2019, when 323 firearms were seized in Atlanta.

Nationally, on October 3 this year, the TSA had banned 4,495 airline passengers from taking firearms on their flights, surpassing the previous record of 4,432 firearms intercepted at checkpoints in all of 2019.

It’s unclear what’s driving the spike in gun seizures, but the TSA notes it’s happening despite a continued decline in passenger numbers.

The TSA said the Atlanta incident underscores the importance for all passengers of checking personal belongings for dangerous items before departing for the airport. Passengers caught with firearms at airport checkpoints face a civil fine.

Firearms are allowed in checked baggage when unloaded and packed in a locked hard case.

With coverage from Associated Press

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