LOS ANGELES (CBSLA.com) — Operations at Los Angeles International Airport returned to normal Monday after false reports of a shooter and gunfire inside the airport triggered pandemonium and caused hundreds of flights to be delayed.
About 8:45 p.m. Sunday, airport police received a frantic 911 call about an active gunman in Terminal 8.
Officer Robert Pedregon of Los Angeles Airport Police listened to the emergency call. “I hear a person who truly believes that there’s an active shooter in that terminal, and he needs help.”
People around the caller started to panic and ran for their lives.
Police said panicked passengers then started posting about the airport shooter scare on Twitter and other social media sites.
Within five minutes, another 911 call came in, this time from Terminal 4. “They said we’re here that there’s a shooting here,” Pedregon said.
Now, people in Terminal 4 were in full panic mode as people ran for any exits they could find and spread the word on social media as well.
“There was screaming around us. There’s a shooter. There’s a shooter. Everyone was starting to storm and run down the stairs. It was just crazy,” one traveler said.
Someone was heard on a mobile phone video being asked why people were running. A person said because security told people to run.
Then more emergency calls came in from Terminals 1 and 6 also. By then, people in four terminals were all in panic mode, Pedregon added.
Passengers and employees ran onto the tarmac and into the Central Terminal Area roadways.
Terminals 1, 4, 6, 7 and 8 were evacuated, and roadways into the airport were shut down, causing gridlock on area streets, according to Assistant LAX police Chief Dave Maggard.
Pedregon said for the first time ever, airport operations activated the Los Angeles County Wireless Emergency Alert system, which sent out public safety messages to every smartphone with a five-mile radius of the airport.
The news of possible gunshots prompted some people to rush out the wrong security doors, setting off alarms and adding to the sense of danger, LAX police union head Marshall McClain said on KNX 1070 NEWSRADIO.
Some people inside the airport heard loud noises they knew weren’t gunshots, but it was possible the noises induced some other people to call 911, McClain told KNX 1070.
After reviewing security videos, investigators said no gunshots were fired.
“Report of shooting at LAX proven to be loud noises only,” Los Angeles police Capt. Andy Neiman wrote on Twitter Sunday night. “No shots fired. No injuries.”
Security expert Henry Willis wondered if the airport needed better protocol. “People left the airport in a chaotic fashion. They ended up exiting, some cases out onto the tarmac, in other cases onto open roadways, where they put themselves possibly in physical harm, and that itself is a breakdown of public safety.”
A spokeswoman told CBS2/KCAL9’s Erica Nochlin that the airport expected people to panic and when one person runs, others will follow.
She said that is why the emergency exit doors, which aren’t allowed to be locked, set off alarms, and police immediately responded.
She added that the FAA ground stop was put in place to make sure moving planes didn’t endanger people.
By about 10:50 p.m., departure and arrival roadways into the Central Terminal Area reopened.
The scare affected air traffic nationwide as flights in and out of LAX from airports across the country were re-routed or canceled.
According to LAX Public Relations Director Nancy Castles, 281 flights were delayed – 120 arrivals and 161 departures. Two flights were canceled.
About five minutes before the false rumors spread, police responded to reports of a man dressed as Zorro and carrying a sword in Terminal 7.
Officers detained the man and later released him after determining that his sword was plastic, Pedregon said.
The man claimed that he works for tips posing for photos with tourists on Hollywood Boulevard and was meeting someone at the airport, according to Maggard, who said he did not know if the Zorro character was connected to active shooter scare.