After airport chaos, Las Vegas agencies respond to criticism, arrest traveler responsible for ‘loud noise’
LAS VEGAS, Nev. (FOX5) - Harry Reid International Airport erupted in chaos early Sunday morning after reports of an active shooter spread like wildfire among travelers who went running in all directions for their lives, according to authorities.
Las Vegas agencies such as TSA, Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department, and Harry Reid International Airport authorities are defending themselves against criticism about how communications were handled during and after the incident.
“They never made an announcement [on the intercom]! Alarms never went off,” said traveler Raja Harris.
Another woman, Tawanna Malpress, who got married in Las Vegas over the weekend, said she crouched behind a ticketing kiosk for thirty minutes with her elderly parents, and said no intercom announcement was made by authorities.
“Not once did I hear anything over the intercom at all,” said Malpress.
Police assuaged fears on their Twitter page. About half an hour after police got their first call about it, Metro tweeted, calling the reports of a shooter “unfounded.” They explained that the panic broke out after a loud noise startled travelers who thought there had been gunfire.
Video posted to social media also showed TSA agents running and hiding, which allowed countless travelers to pour through the security checkpoint un-vetted. As passengers told FOX5, checkpoint security was compromised because several TSA agents had abandoned their posts to run and hide. This caused a system upheaval when multiple concourses had to be evacuated and each person had to be screened or re-screened through TSA.
Christopher Neece, a passenger on Sunday, told FOX5 that when he arrived at the front of security during the mass panic, “there was not a single TSA agent present.”
“No one knows what’s happening,” said traveler Raja Harris. “We’re just piling through. We asked the TSA person like can you get on your walky-talky and ask what is going on? Like, why are we running? What has happened? And he was like, ‘Just run! Just run!’”
Harris continued, “Everybody was running, and they were like, ‘Run run run, there’s a shooter! Four young black girls -- I mean -- you could see the trauma on her face, and she was limping, like, she got trampled over so bad she was scared, scared for her life. I had an asthma attack and panic attack and I was like, “I’m just trying to make it back home to my kids, I don’t know what is going on.’”
Lorie Dankers, a spokeswoman with TSA’s Pacific region defended the agency’s response in a phone call with our newsroom Monday.
She told FOX5 that Las Vegas’ TSA agents responded appropriately by running and hiding. Said they are trained to do so in the case of an active shooter, specifically because they have alternative security measures in the case of an emergency: widespread evacuation, or “terminal dump,” and the closure of all gates. These are actions they ultimately executed to ensure the safety of flights and by rescreening everybody.
Dankers reiterated that TSA is not the same as law enforcement, and she added that safety emergencies and false alarms like these would fall under the response of police instead.
An arrest made
Metro police have charged a man named Stefan Hutchison for burglary in relation to Sunday’s incident. They said he was first arrested at the airport Saturday morning, then came back several hours later.
Meanwhile, many people are criticizing how the incident was handled and are wondering if anything can be improved from a communications standpoint.
Similar incidents recently
This is at least the fourth time since May that unfounded reports of a shooter caused widespread panic in a large venue in Vegas.
FOX5 got in touch with Metro police Monday, and they defended themselves, saying they did what was in their power to do, adding that airport officials are the ones who are in charge of the intercom.
“The airport specifically, they have to speak [about] their intercom system... we’re not able to do that,” said Officer Larry Hadfield, Public Information Officer, LVMPD. “And you all follow the Twitter account and stuff like that, and we have found that that is the most effective way to communicate with our public, as well as the media, so the message could be spread out.”
Hadfield responded to our questions about what the department feels is the role of police in situations like this.
“It would be irresponsible of law enforcement to make a quick judgment call and try to calm the public by simply saying there is not something, that we cannot confirm or have not validated,” said Hadfield. “As a law enforcement agency, it is our responsibility to investigate whatever allegations are occurring, whether it’s an active shooter or other types of a public hazard.”
Airport officials declined an interview Monday, but instead, an airport spokesperson sent FOX5 a statement:
According to FlightAware, there were more than 550 delays at Harry Reid on Sunday, and 62 cancellations.
Operations appeared to be running smoother on Monday, however, as of this publishing date, the airport saw 282 flight delays and seven cancellations on Monday, according to FlightAware.
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