ATLANTA (AP) — A passenger awaiting a search at the Atlanta airport’s main security checkpoint reached in his bag and grabbed a firearm, and it went off, causing chaos among travelers and prompting a temporary FAA ground stop on flights Saturday afternoon, officials said. The man ran.

According to the Transportation Security Administration, this man was later identified as a felon and ran from the checkpoint with the gun. He then escaped through an airport exit. The incident was not considered an active shooter incident by authorities, who described the accidental discharge as accidental.

Later, police said that they issued a warrant to arrest the 42-year old Kenny Wells.

Kenny Wells, who was waiting for a bag check at Atlanta’s main security screening point, reached inside his bag to grab a gun, which caused it to explode, according authorities.
via Associated Press

The airport’s police commander, Maj. Reginald Moorman, said Wells was being sought on charges including carrying a concealed weapon at a commercial airport, possession of a firearm by a convicted felon, discharging a firearm and reckless conduct.

“We are actively pursuing this individual as we speak,” Moorman said at a news briefing Saturday evening with TSA and airport officials.

The discharge caused a frenzy on social media as alarmed travelers posted videos to Twitter and other sites showing and describing moments of chaos and confusion at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, one of the nation’s busiest.

Authorities said three people suffered minor injuries, including one person who fell in the airport’s atrium area away from the checkpoint, and two complaining of shortness of breath. According to police, they were forced to control the crowds until it calmed down.

TSA representatives said that nobody was killed.

The FAA issued a temporary ground stop on flights Saturday afternoon after the gun discharged, sending people into a panic. The Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, one of the nation’s busiest, is seen in 2016.
After the shot was fired, the FAA placed a temporary stop to flights on Saturday afternoon. This caused panic among passengers. The Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, one of the nation’s busiest, is seen in 2016.
via Associated Press

“We were fortunate that when the firearm went off, no one was seriously injured,” Robert Spinden, the TSA’s director of federal security for Georgia, said at the airport briefing. Officials didn’t immediately disclose the type of weapon involved.

Users on social media reported that there was a long line and some people missed their flights. As people continue to struggle with safety during the COVID-19 epidemic, the incident happened before the Thanksgiving peak holiday travel season.

Although the FAA ordered a temporary ground stop, airport officials said operations never ceased and the airport didn’t close. According to them, the airport was back in normal operation within two hours.

The TSA statement said it all began when the passenger was about to undergo a bag search by an official at 1:30 p.m. at the airport’s main checkpoint after an X-ray scan detected what was described as a “prohibited item.”

“He advised the passenger not to touch the property, and 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 passenger then fled the area,” according to the statement.

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reportedAfter hearing the gun go off, social media users ran from the airport. Twitter posted a video showing people sprinting out of the airport, while others glancing back in an anxious way.

Atlanta police have given the all-clear and normal operations at the airport resumed shortly before 3:30 PM. TSA has ordered that passengers be rescreened.

TSA stated that the incident highlighted the importance of all travelers checking their belongings for any dangerous items before they travel. Civil penalties will be applied to anyone caught at an airport with a firearm. TSA states that firearms can be checked in baggage if they have been unloaded and stored in a hard-sided, locked case.

The federal government reported last month a spike in firearm seizures at Atlanta’s airport — part of a record year for the number of guns detected at airport security checkpoints.

TSA stated that it had seized 391 firearms from Hartsfield Jackson Airport in the first 9 months of 2021. This was an increase from the 220 firearms it seized last year, when passengers were suffering greatly due to the pandemic. This was an increase of 323 firearms seized by Atlanta police in 2019, however.

TSA stated that 4,495 airlines passengers had been stopped from flying with firearms. This is more than the 4,432 firearms it caught in checkpoints across all of 2019!

The agency’s news release last month noted the record came despite a continued dip in passengers because of the pandemic. Authorities didn’t offer any explanations or theories for the sudden spike in gun seizures.

Hartsfield-Jackson is one of the nation’s busiest airports, though other U.S. airports rival its passenger screening numbers. Dallas Forth Worth International Airport was second on the TSA’s list, with 232 firearms seized by Oct. 3.


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