Warrants have been issued for a man who fled after a gun discharged during a search of his luggage at Hartsfield–Jackson Atlanta International Airport, causing panicked travelers to flee and briefly halting departures Saturday afternoon, officials said.
About 1:30 p.m., a transportation security officer was checking a passenger’s bag after the X-ray machine identified a prohibited item, according to the Transportation Security Administration.
The officer told the passenger not to touch the bag, but “as he opened the compartment containing the prohibited item, the passenger lunged into the bag and grabbed a firearm, at which point it discharged,” the TSA said in a written statement.
The passenger ran out of the security line and airport exit with the firearm, said Robert Spinden, the TSA federal security director for Georgia.
The airport tweeted that there was not an active shooter and that a firearm had accidentally gone off.
Airport officials gave the all-clear at 2:57 p.m. and said passenger screenings and flights were underway again.
At a Saturday evening news conference, authorities identified Kenny Wells, 42, as the person whose gun discharged.
Warrants have been issued for Wells on charges of possession of a firearm by a convicted felon, discharging a firearm, carrying a concealed weapon at a commercial airport, and reckless conduct, airport police commander Maj. Reginald Norman said.
Cellphone video captured frightened travelers lying on the ground inside the airport. Other footage showed passengers getting off planes and waiting on the tarmac and around the terminals, according to NBC affiliate WXIA of Atlanta.
The airport said there was no danger to passengers or employees and the incident is being investigated.
There were at least three reports of injuries, including two people with shortness of breath and one fall in an area separate from the security check point. None of the injuries were thought to be life-threatening and it was unclear if they were directly tied to the scare, officials said. No one was injured in in the discharge.
Following the incident, the Federal Aviation Administration halted departures. The airport said normal operations are beginning to resume.
The TSA said the incident should remind passengers of “the importance of checking personal belongings for dangerous items before leaving for the airport.”
TSA officers have come across more than 450 firearms at checkpoints in the Atlanta airport this year, the agency said.
“Firearms, particularly loaded firearms, introduce an unnecessary risk at checkpoints, have no place in the passenger cabin of an airplane, and represent a very costly mistake for the passengers who attempt to board a flight with them,” the TSA said.
The agency said it assesses civil penalties when travelers bring firearms to airport checkpoints. The penalties vary based on any previous offenses and whether the firearm was loaded at the time.