"I heard 'pop, pop, pop!' and spun around and saw this guy shooting away," said Paul Parkus, a 38-year-old Los Angeles photographer. "The El Al guys came over the top of the counter" and tackled the shooter, they said.
David Parkus, 39, a trauma surgeon from Beaumont, Texas, said he ran to the ticket counter and helped the guards subdue the gunman, whom he described as weighing 200 to 250 pounds. The man stabbed at least one of the security guards, Parkus said.
For The Record
Los Angeles Times Saturday July 06, 2002 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 2 inches; 101 words Type of Material: Correction
Shooting victim--Victoria Hen's name was misspelled in a story about the fatal shootings at Los Angeles International Airport in Friday's Section A. Her age was also incorrect. She was 25.
Golan, a 54-year-old veteran of the Israeli army who was on his way to visit his grandchildren in Israel, described a similar scene, differing on some details.
"I heard a lot of shots, maybe 15 or 20. It was very quick. I heard the shots, turned, and I saw the security guard jump over the rope," he said. As the guard began grappling with the shooter, Golan said, he dashed over to help.
"I just wanted to stop him," he said. "I jumped on him. He still had the gun in his hand. It was a small gun, maybe a .22. We wrestled him to the ground."
Golan said the shooter lost his grip on the gun, which fell and skittered out of reach across the floor. According to witnesses, as the two men struggled to hold down the shooter, who was lying on his back, another El Al security guard ran over, stood over the man and shot him once in the abdomen.
Golan recounted his role as he sat on a curb outside the terminal, his clothes splattered with dime-size drops of blood, a cigarette held in a trembling hand.
He described the shooter as powerfully built, about 5-foot-10, his hair tinged with gray.
FBI spokesman Matt McLaughlin said the man carried .45-caliber and 9mm handguns, as well as a six-inch knife. A law enforcement source said the gunman also carried additional ammunition clips.
At the man's apartment in Irvine, FBI, LAPD, immigration officers and Irvine police had set up a cordon and were preparing to search the home late Thursday. Police said the man's wife and two elementary school-age sons were not home when they arrived and their whereabouts were unknown.
A neighbor, who would not give his name, said that his wife and the gunman's wife had volunteered together at a local elementary school. "They seemed like nice people. It's all pretty shocking to us," the man said. Neighbors said the man worked for a limousine service and was seldom seen outside the apartment except when he stepped out to smoke.
During a 30-minute news conference Thursday afternoon, authorities said they believed the shooting was an isolated incident. Still, an FBI official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said later that authorities had not ruled out terrorism as a motive.
Israel's consul general in Los Angeles, Yuval Rotem, said he did not believe it was random.
"It seems like a terrorist attack and it looks like a terrorist attack," he said, based in part on past airport killings. Rotem cited a 1985 attack at the Rome airport that killed 17 people, as well as incidents in Paris, London and other European cities.
The gunman did not say anything while he was shooting, Rotem said. But he added, "It was very obvious. He was trying to target and gun down as many Israelis as he can. It may turn out to be one more attack against Israel."
Rotem credited Haim Sapir, the chief of El Al security, with saving lives. He said Sapir was stabbed and shot before shooting the man.
Guard 'a Hero'
"He's a hero," Rotem said. "He and his colleagues were able to save many passengers."
Sapir, believed to be in his early 40s, was treated at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center.
Rotem said the attack would not interfere with El Al's daily operations.
"Our answer to terrorism is to be as normal as we can even if it's an abnormal situation,' he said.
The FBI took charge of the investigation, with the Los Angeles Police Department acting as an assisting agency.
Acting LAPD Chief Martin Pomeroy said additional police would be deployed at the airport, beginning today. He urged people to continue with holiday celebrations, and Hahn encouraged the public to continue flying.
"There's no reason for the traveling public to shy away from air travel," the mayor said.
Most flights in and out of the airport continued to operate normally throughout the day, which launched a four-day weekend for many people. During the time that the Bradley terminal was closed, passengers waited outside on the lawn, reading books on benches, standing on top of parking structures and watching the terminal.
El Al, the Israeli national air carrier, prides itself on having the industry's most stringent security. It places undercover armed guards on every flight, much of its airport ground staff is also armed and cockpits are reinforced to prevent unauthorized entry. Israel noted that its airliners have not fallen victim to air piracy for more than two decades.
El Al points to its rigorous screening as its best defense. From the moment a traveler purchases a ticket for an El Al flight, the person's name and data are sent to Israeli intelligence. Once a passenger reports to an airport, he or she is subject to intensive questioning.
It varies from airport to airport, but El Al officials occasionally call the traveler's contacts in Israel to verify information.
Questioning is often intrusive and searches can be extremely thorough, to the point of shaking each piece of underwear in a suitcase and unscrewing every bottle of makeup or shampoo.
Contributing to the coverage of the shootings at LAX were Times staff writers Andrew Blankstein, Erin Chan, Tina Dirmann, Greg Krikorian, Mitchell Landsberg, Laura Loh, Anthony McCartney, Jennifer Oldham, James F. Peltz, Beth Shuster, Kurt Streeter and Kelly Yamanouchi in Los Angeles, Josh Meyer in Washington, D.C., and Tracy Wilkinson in Jerusalem.