A passenger awaiting a search at the Atlanta airport’s main security checkpoint reached in his bag and grabbed a firearm, and it went off, causing chaos among travelers, officials said.
The passenger ran with the gun from the checkpoint and escaped out an airport exit, the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) said. Authorities described the discharge as accidental.
Police said later they had issued a warrant for the arrest of the passenger, 42-year-old Kenny Wells, who they identified as a convicted felon.
The airport’s police commander, Maj Reginald Moorman, said Wells was being sought on charges including carrying a concealed weapon at a commercial airport, possession of a firearm by a convicted felon, discharging a firearm and reckless conduct.
“We are actively pursuing this individual as we speak,” Moorman said at a news briefing Saturday evening with TSA and airport officials.
The discharge caused a frenzy on social media as alarmed travelers posted videos to Twitter and other sites showing and describing moments of chaos and confusion at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta international airport, one of the nation’s busiest.
Authorities said three people suffered minor injuries. A TSA official said no one was shot.
“We were fortunate that when the firearm went off, no one was seriously injured,” Robert Spinden, the TSA’s director of federal security for Georgia, said at the airport briefing. Officials didn’t immediately disclose the type of weapon involved.
Social media users reported there were long lines afterward and missed flights for some. The incident came ahead of the peak Thanksgiving holiday travel season as people are still coping with the concerns of safely traveling during the Covid-19 pandemic.
Although the FAA ordered a temporary ground stop, airport officials said operations never ceased and the airport didn’t close. They said the airport returned to normal operations in under two hours.
Passengers caught with firearms at airport checkpoints face a civil penalty. The TSA says firearms may be allowed in checked baggage when they are unloaded and packed in a locked, hard-sided case.
Last month, federal officials reported a surge in firearm seizures at Atlanta’s airport – part of a record year for the number of guns detected at airport security checkpoints.
Across the nation, the TSA said, it had stopped 4,495 airline passengers from carrying firearms onto their flights by 3 October of this year, surpassing the previous record of 4,432 firearms caught at checkpoints in all of 2019.
The agency’s news release last month noted the record came despite a continued dip in passengers because of the pandemic. Authorities did not offer an explanation or theory about the surge in gun seizures.
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