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At Least Two Dead Following Shooting at L.A. Airport

Aired July 4, 2002 - 16:30   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
JUDY WOODRUFF, CNN ANCHOR: On this Fourth of July, supposed to be a day of celebration, celebrating American independence, we are following two tragedies, ironically both of them in the Los Angeles area, one at Los Angeles International Airport, a shooting a few hours ago at the El Al ticket counter at Los Angeles Airport at the Bradley International Terminal there, two people dead, two others injured. Police believe that one of the -- those who are dead was the gunman involved.

The other story we are following is just about 40 miles east of Los Angeles Airport in the suburb of San Dimas, where a small plane crashed into a crowd of people there, apparently celebrating the Fourth. And we have new information on what happened.

Our, CNN's Patty Davis is with me now -- Patty, what more have you learned?

PATTY DAVIS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, the FAA tells me that this plane crashed upon takeoff from a nearby Pomona Brackett Airport.

It is a Cessna 310. There were two people on board. One of the people on that plane is reported as a fatality. The pilot reported that he was unable to climb as he was taking off from that small airport. He declared a Mayday and, soon thereafter, crashed into the water. Now, I am told by the FAA that that plane, after it crashed, then skipped on to the land and hit the people in that park.

So, it is appears that it was -- at first crashed into water and then skipped and hit those people on land.

WOODRUFF: And, Patty, CNN has learned, among other information coming in, 10 people injured. Of those, perhaps -- I am just reading this now -- six of them are in critical condition, including two children.

I mean, you could only imagine what that must have been like, with the crowd of people standing there by the side of that body of water. It is not clear, from our vantage point, whether it is a lake or some sort of creek. But this is about, we are told, about 40, 45 miles east of Los Angeles Airport, as the crow flies.

All right, CNN's Patty Davis with us now, again, on -- but this time on this other strategy that has taken place this afternoon in the Los Angeles area. With us now by telephone from Israel is the Israeli transport minister, Ephraim Sneh.

Mr. Sneh, I know you are having to rely at this point on U.S. law enforcement officials for what you know about what happened in Los Angeles. But what are you being told right now?

EPHRAIM SNEH, ISRAELI TRANSPORTATION MINISTER: Well, a fatal terrorist armed with a handgun and a knife opened fire on the line of passengers waiting at the El Al counter at Los Angeles Airport. He succeeded to kill one passenger. And two other passengers were wounded.

Security personnel, who reacted very promptly and very professionally, succeeded to neutralize the terrorist. And that was the end of the event.

WOODRUFF: Mr. Sneh, is there any other information at this point about threats being issued anywhere about this particular airport or about any one in the

(CROSSTALK)

SNEH: No, we had no specific warning about such an attack. But we have general knowledge that the terror organizations prefer Israeli aviation as a target for terrorist attacks. And, in this case, that's what has happened.

WOODRUFF: At this point, we don't know if there was more than one individual involved. Is that right?

SNEH: So far, we know about one single terrorist. We don't know, indeed, at the moment about other collaborators.

WOODRUFF: You are using the term "terrorist." What are you basing that on?

SNEH: Sorry? I didn't hear you.

WOODRUFF: You are using the term "terrorist." I just wondered what you are basing that on.

SNEH: I am sorry. I am afraid the line is not so fine. Can you repeat your question, please?

WOODRUFF: Yes. I just wanted to ask -- I will try one more time. We don't have the best telephone connection. I am talking with Ephraim Sneh, who is Israel's transport minister.

You are calling the gunman a terrorist.

SNEH: Yes, I do. Yes, I do.

WOODRUFF: I am asking what information leads you to call the gunman a terrorist? SNEH: We don't have any specific -- any specific information about which organization he is affiliated. But we have all the basis to assume that this was a terrorist act and not any other kind of attack.

WOODRUFF: All right, Ephraim Sneh is Israel's...

SNEH: You know, when a gunman opens fire on El Al passengers at an international airport, we have to assume that this is a terrorist attack.

WOODRUFF: Well, we are certainly trying to get as much information as we can to find out exactly what happened.

Mr. Sneh, thank you very much for joining us.

SNEH: Thank you. Thank you.

WOODRUFF: Ephraim Sneh is the Israeli transport minister.

Also with us now on the phone is a gentleman who was the chief of security for El Al Airlines, Issy Boim.

Am I pronouncing your name correctly?

ISSY BOIM, PRESIDENT, AIR SECURITY INTERNATIONAL: Yes, you pronounced my name perfectly well, but I am not the chief of security of El Al. I actually am a veteran from El Al. And I am running today a company into Houston, Texas under the name of Air Security International, Issy Boim.

WOODRUFF: Based on what you have heard, Mr. Boim, what can you tell us about -- I mean, just based on the information you have been picking up about the fact that this was someone who opened fire and used a knife on people waiting in line to buy tickets at the El Al counter?

BOIM: Well, we did have this risk assessment a long time ago and based on the -- actually, the (UNINTELLIGIBLE) that I got from El Al. I actually mentioned this, actually this threat for a long time.

And I said, so far we are doing everything on the checkpoints. And what's going to happen if the passengers waiting in the checkpoints are going to be attacked? Unfortunately, it happened. But, fortunately, the El Al had the right answer to return.

WOODRUFF: How much security is there? We know that, clearly, there is security beyond the point where people go through the magnetometers. Their bags are checked as they go from the ticket counter area to the gate. But how much security is there in that outside perimeter?

BOIM: You see, the outside perimeter, you could see the National Guard in various places and some of the local police. None of the agents, with all due respect, are professional guys or professional, trained agents that can respond to such an attack. And the reality proved that, from long time ago, if a terrorist -- it doesn't matter the definition. This guy was a gunman. And let's call him a gunman -- opened fire. The fact that El Al did have in place a security agent, he actually reduced the threat immediately, unfortunately, not enough to save lives, to save the one life or the two lives. But he actually saved a lot of lives for many, many innocent passengers.

WOODRUFF: Is that typical to have, really, no significant security in the area outside of the ticket counters before you get to the main security -- you know, the magnetometers, the other place where you have to put your bags down and be searched and so forth?

BOIM: Absolutely.

I think the TSA will have to take it very hard into consideration that, actually, security has to be put in various places. It's not enough just to speak or to discuss about the checkpoints and checkpoints, and again the checkpoints, but nothing would be done outside and even on board, you see. So, we believe in rings of security, layers of security, that you have to put security personnel in every place that, actually, from the risk assessment, you found out that, actually, this place can be attacked by a gunman, terrorist or lunatic people.

WOODRUFF: Such a tragedy. Issy Boim, joining us from -- did you say Houston?

BOIM: From Houston. From Houston, yes.

WOODRUFF: From Houston.

Thank you very much. We appreciate that.

We are looking at live pictures of Los Angeles International Airport, Tom Bradley International Terminal. This is terminal where all air traffic has stopped. You can see hundreds and hundreds of people outside waiting, don't know when they will get back into that building, as police try to find out what happened this afternoon about two hours ago, when a gunman with a knife and a gun attacked people standing in line at the El Al counter.

Let's listen in to KABC Television in Los Angeles.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: ... in that LAX shooting on what has been a very difficult Fourth of July holiday, the first half of the day.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Well, it's just, you know, what we were hoping wouldn't happen.

Everyone was feeling a little bit on edge, with this being the first Independence Day since September 11. And there's increased security all over the nation: military flights patrolling major cities; Washington, D.C., all of tourist sites a major increased police presence and plainclothes officers, just heightened security everywhere. And so everyone has been feeling a little bit on edge, everyone, of course, hoping that this would just be a quiet, peaceful Fourth of July holiday.

And here we are covering now two significant stories, one that's gaining national attention of the shooting at LAX, and then the other one also very tragic, involving 10 people at a park, several of them on the ground, just innocent folks enjoying the holiday who were hit by a small plane that crashed into a park.

You are seeing here a live picture now. They're still treating the injured. Not everybody has been taken to hospitals yet. And here we are seeing another person being taken over to an ambulance to be taken to a hospital.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Look at the commitment of firefighters, of sheriff's deputies, police officers out there in San Dimas.

We should point out this is very near Brackett Field. We are not sure if the plane left from Brackett Field, but it is a pretty good assumption to make that, either on takeoff or landing, something may have happened with that aircraft.

Of significance is the fact there was not a fire here. So, there may be something, a fuel issue with regard to that plane. We don't know yet, of course. We will have to find that out later. The NTSB, we're sure, is sending someone out there. But, immediately, the big issue is dealing with all the injured people.

You can imagine how crowded this park must have been, even in the early part of the afternoon on the Fourth of July. People get there early to stake out their spots where they are going to barbecue, where they are going to hang out for the day in this pretty well-known recreation area, now, of course, a very different scene, as you see people still being brought out on stretchers and being evacuated from the scene, and a major commitment of emergency personnel at the park in San Dimas.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It's a very popular park. And it has got a nice lake. It's a beautiful setting out in the foothills there in San Dimas. And people were out there celebrating the Fourth when this happened. We saw the wreckage right next to a picnic table. And you can see a cooler. People have been set up at that picnic table just inches from where the plane ultimately crashed.

We are told that, when it came down, it hit some trees and then crashed into the -- I don't know if you would call it a campground area. And picnic area, I guess is what you would say -- and hit some people. But what is still unclear is how many people on the ground were hit, how many people were on board the plane. We know it is small plane. I believe it is a Cessna. We just got some information in.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's a Cessna 3101, is what we are hearing. And it is, I believe, a twin-engine aircraft, is what's been described in earlier reports.

WOODRUFF: We will break away from this live coverage from KABC to talk with the deputy general consul of Israel, based in Los Angeles. His name is Zvi Vapni.

Mr. Vapni, what have you been able to learn so far about the shooting at Los Angeles Airport at the Bradley International Terminal?

ZVI VAPNI, ISRAELI DEPUTY GENERAL CONSUL: So far, what we know -- and it's still scattered information -- is that an armed person running with a pistol, maybe with a knife, toward the counter of El Al at the departure level in LAX shot a few shots, wounding two passengers, killing one of them. And in what pursued, he himself was shot by security personnel on the spot and was killed.

WOODRUFF: Do know any more about others in custody?

Our Charles Feldman reported a little while ago that two other people are being held in custody. They're not suspects at this point, as far as he knows. But do you know anything about that?

VAPNI: No.

And I think it's too early. The LAPD is probably doing their best, we are sure. And they will have more information. As far as we know, we know of one attacker, the attacker that already has been shot and killed by security personnel.

WOODRUFF: What security would there normally be at that ticket counter, Mr. Vapni?

VAPNI: Without getting into too much detail, the fact is that El Al provide security from the moment of arrival into the airport. And people around the counter are armed. And luckily it is so, because I think they saved a lot of life in this occasion, their quick response and the response of other security elements in the area.

And these security measures are starting there, continuing throughout the flight and until the destination. And this has been a practice of El Al for many, many years for obvious reasons. And, in many cases, we have been able to avoid, with this system, a loss of life and successful terrorist attacks.

WOODRUFF: Well, it certainly sounds as if you are correct, that, if they had not been there, then the gunman might have gotten away. He was evidently shot by one of the security people, although we are waiting for confirmation on that.

At this point, what is your government doing? Are you -- is your government participating at this point in the investigation? Or is it all up to the L.A. police, or what?

VAPNI: The investigation itself is, of course, up to the L.A. police. But we are in touch with every department relevant to the situation, first because we need the information about all Israelis that have been wounded. We get a phone call all the time from Israelis here and in Israel. And we are trying to provide them with the information. And, of course, security people of El Al will be cooperating fully with the L.A. Police Department to help them finish this investigation as quick as possible. WOODRUFF: Do you -- I assume there's nothing you can say at this point about the identity of any of those who have been -- who were victims.

VAPNI: No.

No, I cannot say anything about the identity of the people involved in this...

WOODRUFF: Or about the gunman?

VAPNI: No. No, we don't have further information at this stage. It is a very early stage. And the investigation is still going on. And we don't have any information on this issue.

WOODRUFF: All right, Zvi Vapni is deputy general consul of Israel at their office there, office based there in Los Angeles.

Charles Feldman is with us now. He is at Los Angeles Airport.

Charles, do you have new information right now?

CHARLES FELDMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, I do.

And, actually, the spokesperson for the FBI's office here, Matt McLaughlin, is standing here.

Matt, let me ask you very quickly. We are on live. What can you tell us in terms of -- we have been saying on the air that there is no indication yet of any terrorism. But what, from the FBI's point of view, is going on here? What can you tell our audience?

MATT MCLAUGHLIN, FBI SPOKESMAN: OK, this is very, very early in the investigation. We are working very closely with LAPD.

WOODRUFF: We evidently lost our signal from Los Angeles.

Here, it's back.

MCLAUGHLIN: .. investigate very aggressively, which is what we are going to do.

QUESTION: What can you tell us about the shooter?

MCLAUGHLIN: Right now, that's all of the information that I have. I just arrived on scene a few minutes ago. And we should have a briefing by officials here in about 10 or 15 minutes. And we will get them here as quick as possible.

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE)

MCLAUGHLIN: Yes, there is no indication of any terrorism connection in this matter right now. But, again, we also can't discount that until we know more, which is logical in a case like this. So, we are very aggressively investigating with LAPD, L.A. Airport police. And we will bring you more information as we can. QUESTION: How many suspects at this point?

MCLAUGHLIN: I don't have any information on exactly (INAUDIBLE) and, really, that is all that I have.

QUESTION: What's your name?

MCLAUGHLIN: My name is Matt McLaughlin. I'm the media rep for Los Angeles here with the FBI.

QUESTION: You are not ruling terrorism at this point?

MCLAUGHLIN: At this point, it's too early to rule out anything.

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE)

MCLAUGHLIN: McLaughlin is M-C-L-A-U-G-H-L-I-N. And I will work out with LAPD a system for giving you periodic briefings so that you have the best information we can get to you.

OK, thank you very much.

(CROSSTALK)

MCLAUGHLIN: It's no sense to page me. I will be overloaded. No sense to call. I will come here periodically, along with LAPD.

WOODRUFF: We are trying to hear what Mr. McLaughlin is saying. As he said, he is the media representative, the spokesman, in effect, for the FBI in Los Angeles, Matthew McLaughlin.

And he said, he did say, in the next 10 or 15 minutes, there is going to be a briefing by the FBI officials, in conjunction with police and airport security people, airport authorities, as they continue to investigate that shooting that left two people dead, including the gunman at Los Angeles Airport at the El Al ticket counter.

We are following that story and another tragedy in Los Angeles, with the crash of a light plane into a crowd of people celebrating the Fourth of July, one dead, apparently someone on board that light plane, and at least 10 or so people injured, six of them critically, including several children -- so, a lot of tragedy on this day that was supposed to be a day of celebration.

We will be right back with more coverage.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WOODRUFF: On this Fourth of July, CNN watching news across this great country, but right now, we are focused on two tragedies in the Los Angeles area, one at the airport there, the international terminal, Bradley International Terminal, where, just a couple of hours ago, a gunman opened fire, may have also had a knife, and killed at least -- killed one person. The gunman himself was shot to death. And there are other injuries there. They are investigating. The terminal has been evacuated.

Separately, about 30 miles, 30, 40 miles east of there, a small, a light plane crashed into a crowd of people celebrating the Fourth of July. One person is dead, 10 others injured, several of them critically. And we are following both those stories.

Right now, we want to share with you what an eyewitness to the shootings at the Los Angeles Airport had to say about what he or she saw.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ROBIN BERGLUND, EYEWITNESS: Sure.

We were upstairs outside eating alfresco at one of the upstairs restaurants. And we heard two or three rapid-fire shots, followed by maybe another six or seven. And then, at that point, there was a wave from the balcony back where everybody just hit the ground and waited. And it got quiet and it stayed quiet. And then gradually, the more adventuresome people got up to take a look around.

I did and I went forward to the balcony. And I saw three people down, one near the counter, a middle-aged man in casual clothing, with clearly an entry wound in his flank from a bullet. A few feet away, near the counter, it appeared to heavyset older lady down, covered by a blanket.

And then, more into the main aisle, there was a middle-aged man and in a suit down surrounded by security people. And there appeared to be something of a struggle at first. But then, when they left, I saw him down and motionless and in an awkward body position. And my impression was that he was dead.

QUESTION: Did you see the gunman at all?

BERGLUND: I don't know who did it. I don't know whether it was the man that appeared to be dead and that he had been shot by security, or whether there was somebody that came in and got away. I could not tell.

QUESTION: How many shots did you hear?

BERGLUND: About a dozen, somewhere between eight and 12, in two bursts, one short burst, then followed by lots of other shots.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WOODRUFF: An eyewitness to the shooting today at Los Angeles Airport, describing what he saw: three people down. We know two are dead, including the gunman. At least two have been injured.

We -- and just to summarize: two dead. The shooter is one of those who is dead. There are two others wounded. It did take place at the El Al ticket counter. And, according to authoritative reports, the gunman was shot by an El Al security person.

Charles Feldman, CNN's Charles Feldman is at the L.A. Airport as we wait for an official news conference there -- Charles.

FELDMAN: Well, Judy, as you heard here a few minutes ago, Matt McLaughin, who is the official spokesman for the FBI in Los Angeles, took the microphone, at some urging from the media, to say what he knew, which was limited.

But he did say -- by the way, I am stopping because there is an LAPD helicopter that's landing right beside me, which is why it is a little loud. It has been ferrying high-ranking police personnel back and forth for the past few minutes. It is unclear whether the acting police chief for the LAPD is on his way or is even at the airport now.

But let me get back to what Matt McLaughin said, which was that he emphasized, as we have been reporting all along, that, at the moment -- and that's the real -- the key phrase here, Judy, is, what we know now is that there is no apparent terrorist connection to this -- because it's on everyone's mind. Everyone has been on alert because of July Fourth, because it is at El Al, which has been a target around the world.

But, as Matt McLaughin said, there is no information at the moment available to law enforcement authorities that would lead them in the direction of terrorism. Now, having said that, he also said that the FBI was going to play a very aggressive role in this investigation, right alongside the Los Angeles Police Department, which, at the moment, would be the lead investigatory agency, unless it becomes very clear that it was a terrorist act, in which case, of course, the FBI would become the head of that.

There is, by the way, in Los Angeles, Judy -- as there is in a lot of other major cities, such as New York -- a joint FBI-police task force. So, there is a working relationship -- and it is a fairly good one -- in Los Angeles between the police department and the FBI.

So, all we know now is that we have one person dead. That we know for sure. That's the shooter. We have a person that the shooter opened fire on. That person is dead. We know about at least two gunshot injuries. We know about a stabbing injury, which has led to this mystery about whether there is an unknown or unidentified accomplice or assailant on the loose. Or maybe it was totally unrelated. It seems a little odd if it was, but it could be.

And what we are doing now is, we are in an area, as you can see, where the whole press corps is set up. This is going to be where the police and the FBI plan any further public announcements. We have some word that the police department may be holding an official press conference in the not-too-distant future. It is also unclear whether or not the mayor of the city of Los Angeles is on his way to the airport.

So, it's a little bit chaotic here. And it looks like they are setting up to get ready for something. So, we will keep you abreast of any further developments.

Judy, anything else you want to know?

WOODRUFF: Well, not at this point, Charles.

Of course, the big question on everyone's mind is: Was this a terrorist incident? And I have been talking with Israeli officials, who say they strongly suspect that any time you have something like this happen at an El Al ticket counter, that may have been involved. But, of course, we have got to wait for more information.

We will just come back to you, Charles, when those police officials, perhaps Los Angeles Mayor James Hahn, will be there, other law enforcement folks begin that news conference. Or, if you pick up any information, we will get right back to you, Charles Feldman, who is at Los Angeles Airport.

And, as we wait for that, we want to bring you up to date on what else we know about the small plane that crashed into a recreation area in the suburbs of Los Angeles. This is the scene in San Dimas, California. This is in Los Angeles County. It is about 30 or 40 miles east of Los Angeles Airport.

All we know is that a small plane -- the pilot described difficulty climbing, and then crashed into a crowd of people who were there celebrating the Fourth at what is described as a reservoir, a very popular area, particularly on the Fourth of July. One person is dead. We know a number of others are injured, including several children in critical condition -- one tragedy after another in Los Angeles.

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