Panic and confusion swept through Atlanta Hartsfield International Airport (ATL) early on Saturday afternoon after a loaded firearm was ‘accidentally’ discharged at a TSA security checkpoint. The TSA later said a passenger “lunged” into a bag containing a firearm and grabbed the gun, causing it to fire.
Passengers were ordered to “Get down” and take cover as security personnel and law enforcement cleared terminal buildings over fears that an active shooter was on the loose.
Hundreds of passengers were evacuated onto the tarmac while thousands more were sent into crowded underground walkways. Video taken by passengers and shared on social media showed scenes of utter confusion as investigators tried to work out what was going on.
The airport eventually took to Twitter to deny an active shooter incident was underway in an attempt to calm the situation.
“There is not an active shooter. There was an accidental discharge at the Airport. There is no danger to passengers or employees,” the airport wrote on its official Twitter feed.
“At approximately 1:30 pm today a weapon accidentally discharged at ATL’s security screening area. There is NOT an active shooter at the airport. APD (Atlanta Police Department) is on the scene,” the airport wrote a little later.
In a later tweet, the airport confirmed that law enforcement had given a final all-clear and that “normal operations are beginning”.
Passengers were, however, warned to expect long delays and many passengers may require to be rescreened by TSA before being allowed to continue onto flights. In a statement, the TSA said a prohibited item was identified during routine X-ray screening and the passenger who owned the bag was advised not to touch the bag.
As the TSA officer “opened the compartment containing the prohibited item, the passenger lunged into the bag and grabbed a firearm, at which point it discharged. The passenger then fled the area, running our of the airport exit”.
“This was not an active shooter event,” the TSA statement continued. “Local airport and TSA leadership made the decision to initiate a ground stop while Atlanta Police Department investigated the incident further”.
Three people were injured in the ensuing panic and no arrests have yet been made. All all-clear was announced a round an hour after the firearm was discharged.
Last month, an active shooter alert at Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) resulted in 300 passengers “self evacuating” onto the tarmac. The false alarm was attributed to two passengers who got into a verbal altercation.
Another passenger allegedly misheard that one of the suspects had a firearm which sowed panic throughout the terminal building.
Mateusz Maszczynski honed his skills as an international flight attendant at the most prominent airline in the Middle East and has been flying throughout the COVID-19 pandemic for a well-known European airline. Matt is passionate about the aviation industry and has become an expert in passenger experience and human-centric stories. Always keeping an ear close to the ground, Matt's industry insights, analysis and news coverage is frequently relied upon by some of the biggest names in journalism.