News Column

How Women Escaped LAX Shootout

November 5, 2013

Abby Tonsing, Herald-Times

Nov. 05--When Nancy Sheehy heard the sound of gunfire in Terminal 3 of the Los Angeles International Airport Friday morning, she instinctively knew what to do: lead her 85-year-old mother to safety through an emergency exit door.

"I feel really lucky that she was with me. She took good care of me," Bessie Thrasher said of her daughter's quick thinking. "She made all the decisions, and I feel like she made the right ones."

Sheehy, now of Manhattan Beach, Calif., came home to the Hoosier state last month to visit with her mother, who lives in Harrodsburg. Sheehy persuaded her mother to travel with her to the West Coast, a trip her mother hadn't made in a decade. The two made plans to enjoy their favorite Mexican restaurant and cold margaritas.

"I just randomly picked Friday, Nov. 1, unfortunately," Sheehy said of her choice of a flight back to Indiana at the end of their visit.

That morning, authorities say, 23-year-old Paul Ciancia pulled a .223-caliber assault rifle from his duffel bag and shot 39-year-old Transportation Security Administration officer Gerardo I. Hernandez. Ciancia reportedly turned back to see Hernandez move and returned to shoot him again.

Ciancia then reportedly fired on two other uniformed TSA employees and an airline passenger, a high school teacher, as Ciancia moved through the security checkpoint into the terminal before airport police shot him four times.

An airport employee later told Sheehy and Thrasher that Hernandez had checked their boarding passes and forms of identification minutes before the shooting. Thrasher was traversing the airport in a wheelchair with the assistance of another airport employee when they got into Hernandez's security line.

Hernandez is the first TSA officer in the 12-year history of the agency to have been killed while on duty.

Once the mother and daughter passed through security, Sheehy said she settled her mother in an area of the terminal near some restrooms, a fast food restaurant and a coffee shop.

The two were also positioned near an emergency exit door.

Two bites into a cup of yogurt, Sheehy next recalled a group of people running and screaming from the security checkpoint.

Some hid under seats. Some yelled for people to run. Others warned a man had a gun.

Sheehy said she first wasn't entirely sure what was happening or who to follow in the confused and panicked fleeing.

Until she heard the gunfire for herself.

On instinct, she pushed her mother's wheelchair out the nearby emergency exit, where they found themselves on a landing with stairs. While helping her mother hold onto a railing and move down the stairs, Sheehy said, she heard another five or six gunshots.

As panicked passengers ran onto the tarmac itself, Sheehy knew she didn't want to head there once they reached the bottom of the stairs. "I didn't want to be a sitting duck out in the open," she said.

An airport employee motioned Sheehy and Thrasher into a ground-level room, where others were hiding. They were later placed on buses and taken to a remote and smaller terminal, where they were held until about 5 p.m. Friday.

Sheehy described her mother as calm through the entire experience. Hard of hearing, her mother may not have heard the gunfire.

"I don't think my daughter's calmed down yet," Thrasher said Monday, minutes before she said goodbye to Sheehy, who was headed to the airport to catch a flight to LA.

Both mother and daughter admitted they have been playing mental games of "what if" in the days following the LAX shooting.

"When I think of what could have happened, it gets pretty scary," Thrasher said, before admitting it's good to finally be home.


(c)2013 the Herald-Times (Bloomington, Ind.)

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Original headline: Mother and daughter describe LAX gunfire, quick escape

Source: (c)2013 the Herald-Times (Bloomington, Ind.)

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