LOS ANGELES – A Sun Valley man pleaded guilty this afternoon to 11 federal charges related to a 2013 shooting at Los Angeles International Airport in which he murdered Transportation Security Administration Officer Gerardo Hernandez.
Paul Anthony Ciancia, 26, pleaded guilty to first-degree murder in the fatal shooting of TSA Officer Hernandez on November 1, 2013.
As a result of the guilty pleas, Ciancia is expected to receive a sentence of at least life in federal prison, plus 60 years. The defendant could be sentenced to multiple life terms and additional years in prison. There is no parole in the federal system.
The guilty pleas were announced by Attorney General Loretta E. Lynch; Assistant Attorney General Leslie R. Caldwell of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division; United States Attorney Eileen M. Decker; and Deirdre Fike, the Assistant Director in Charge of the FBI’s Los Angeles Field Office.
“The 2013 murder of TSA Officer Gerardo Hernandez was a tragic and reprehensible act of violence,” said Attorney General Lynch. “With this guilty plea, the Department of Justice is making clear that wrongdoers who target our nation’s brave law enforcement officers will be held accountable for their crimes. I want to thank the many federal, state, and local law enforcement officers who contributed to this critical investigation – including my colleagues in the ATF and the U.S. Marshals Service – and I want to once again express the Justice Department’s unwavering support for the brave men and women who wear the badge.”
“The guilty pleas entered in court today will hopefully bring some justice to the victims of this horrific attack that senselessly ended the life of a federal officer and injured several others,” said United States Attorney Decker. “Mr. Ciancia now faces a life-without-parole sentence in federal prison, ensuring he will be punished for his crimes and never again have the ability to harm other innocent people. Today’s guilty plea is also a reminder of the tremendous acts of bravery and heroism demonstrated by law enforcement at LAX on the day of the shooting. I commend the hundreds of law enforcement personnel from the Los Angeles Airport Police, the Los Angeles Police Department, the TSA, the FBI and many other agencies who responded to this incident, conducted a thorough and professional investigation, and played a key role in reaching today’s resolution.”
According to a plea agreement file last week, in early 2013, Ciancia purchased a semiautomatic rifle, 500 rounds of ammunition and 10 magazines for the rifle. On the morning of November 1, 2013, Ciancia modified two pieces of luggage and zip-tied them together to conceal his loaded rifle.
Later that morning, Ciancia entered Terminal Three at LAX, removed the loaded rifle from his modified luggage and fired at and killed Officer Hernandez, who was checking passengers’ travel documents as part of his duties as a TSA Officer. Ciancia admitted that he then went upstairs to a TSA checkpoint, by which time many TSA officers and passengers had fled the airport. He fired his weapon at TSA Officers Tony Leroy Grigsby and James Maurice Speer, as well at a civilian, Brian Ludmer, all of whom sustained serious injuries and required surgery but survived the attack.
“Mr. Ciancia’s guilty plea is a welcome development toward reaching justice for the victims of this violent attack, one of whom was murdered as he carried out his duties as a TSA officer, and several others who were wounded when Mr. Ciancia brutally targeted them with his weapon,” said FBI Assistant Director Fike. “I’m proud of the JTTF members and prosecutors for their diligence over the past few years in getting to this point.”
According to the plea agreement, as Ciancia passed passengers hiding in or fleeing the terminal during the attack, he asked if they were TSA and when they said no, he passed without shooting at them.
“Our Transportation Security Officers put their lives on the line each and every day to keep the flying public safe,” said Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson. “We still remember the awful day that Officer Gerardo Hernandez became known as the first slain-on-duty officer. Today’s threat environment demands that we all remain vigilant, and this guilty plea should remind everyone that if you harm one of our officers, you will be brought to justice.”
“The Transportation Security Administration appreciates the hard work of the Justice Department in addressing a tragedy that significantly impacted the men and women of our agency, and brought unspeakable pain to the family of one of our most devoted officers,” said Keith Jeffries, Transportation Security Administration Federal Security Director. “Officer Gerardo Hernandez was known as a hard-working, brave, dedicated officer and devoted family man who was a proud member of the TSA family. He is missed each day. Our thoughts and prayers remain with his family.”
Appearing today before United States District Judge Philip S. Gutierrez, Ciancia pleaded guilty to one count of murder of a federal officer; two counts of attempted murder of a federal officer; four counts of violence at an international airport; one count of discharging of a firearm during a crime of violence causing death; and three counts of discharging a firearm during a crime of violence,
The first degree murder charge carries a mandatory sentence of life in federal prison. The two additional charges based on the killing of Officer Hernandez – violence at an international airport that resulted in death and using a firearm to murder and cause death – each carry potential sentences of life in federal prison.
The two attempted-murder charges and each of the three charges based on violence against the surviving victims all carry a statutory maximum penalty of 20 years in federal prison.
The first count of using a firearm carries a mandatory minimum sentence of 10 years, and the other two use-of-a-firearm charges each carry mandatory sentences of 25 years. The cumulative 60-year sentences for these charges would be served consecutively to any other sentences that are imposed.
Judge Gutierrez is scheduled to sentence Ciancia on November 7.