A gunman opened fire with an assault rifle at Los Angeles International Airport, killing a Transportation Security Administration officer. Several others were injured.

The officer, who wasn’t identified, is the first from the TSA to die in the line of duty. The shooting halted flights in and out of the airport, stranding thousands. The alleged shooter was identified as Paul Anthony Ciancia, 23, of Los Angeles, the FBI said.

Witnesses described bedlam when the shooting broke out at 9:20 a.m. local time in Terminal 3, home to JetBlue Airways Corp. and Virgin America Inc. Police traded gunfire with Ciancia before wounding him and taking him into custody, authorities said. By late afternoon, the airport was restoring normal operations, with the exception of Terminal 3, which remained a crime scene. Officials said the quick response of airport police saved lives.

“Because of the actions of those individuals, many lives were saved here at this airport,” said Los Angeles Police Chief Charlie Beck.

Six people were sent to area hospitals, according to James Featherstone, interim Los Angeles fire chief. Officials halted departures from the airport, evacuated terminals and closed nearby freeway exits.

The TSA officer killed was the first to die in the line of duty, according to J. David Cox, national president of the American Federation of Government Employees, which represents about 45,000 agency employees.

‘Everybody Dropped’

Nick Pugh, 46, of nearby Long Beach, was there to board a Virgin America flight to John F. Kennedy International Airport to watch his brother run in the New York City marathon. He said he heard eight to 10 shots.

“Everybody dropped to the ground almost instantly and started wiggling around like Army men,” Pugh said in an interview.

Ciancia sent a text message mentioning suicide to a sibling, the Associated Press reported. His father called Pennsville, New Jersey, Police Chief Allen Cummings this afternoon saying another of his children had received a text message from the 23-year-old “in reference to him taking his own life,” the chief told AP.

The elder Ciancia and the Pennsville police couldn’t be reached for comment.

The suspect entered Terminal 3, pulled an assault rifle out of a bag and opened fire, Los Angeles Airport Police Chief Patrick Gannon said at a press conference. He proceeded past the screening area of the airport, exchanging gunfire with authorities.

More Ammunition

Ciancia had more than 100 rounds of ammunition, according to Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti.

Pugh, the passenger, fled the terminal. He didn’t make his flight, but still hopes to make it to New York by Sunday. “I’m not sure I want to go to this airport again, though,” he said.

As many as 746 flights were canceled, delayed or rerouted, according to Gina Marie Lindsey, the airport’s director. Planes heading to Los Angeles were being held on the ground at other airports, the Federal Aviation Administration said on its website. The hold was lifted at 4 p.m. local time, Lindsey said.

Anyone with departing flights should check the official LAX Twitter account for updates, officials said.

Unarmed Officers

TSA officers aren’t armed and don’t have the authority to make arrests, even though they are assaulted almost daily, Cox, the national union president, said at a briefing. The public views them as law enforcement because they wear uniforms and have badges, yet they aren’t trained in the same way.

“People will assault the officers and walk away,” Cox said. “Our officers can’t make an arrest.”

JetBlue and Virgin America said their crews were accounted for. Virgin America halted all LAX flights.

“We’re advising passengers to check their flight status,” Sharon Jones, a spokeswoman for JetBlue, said in an interview.

Other airlines at Terminal 3 include Allegiant Travel Co., Frontier, Spirit Airlines and Virgin Australia.

Some arriving flights were held on the tarmac.

Steve Bohbot, 27, of Los Angeles, came in on US Airways Group Inc. Flight 797 from Philadelphia with his wife, Melissa, 26, and with daughter Olivia, 1.

“It’s a disaster,” said Bohbot, who had just finished changing a diaper on the baby. “We’ve been traveling for 21 hours. We were in Tel Aviv, Israel, for a wedding, we flew 13 hours from Israel to Philadelphia. We had a two-hour layover in Philadelphia, we have been on this plane for six hours.”

The airport is the fifth-busiest in the U.S. by domestic passengers, and the biggest carriers are United Continental Holdings Inc.’s United Airlines, AMR Corp.’s American Airlines, Southwest Airlines Co. and Delta Air Lines Inc. For United, American and Delta, it’s a base for U.S. flights as well as a gateway for trans-Pacific routes. Many airlines issued waivers for Los Angeles passengers to rebook without penalty.

With assistance from Rachel Layne in Boston, Phil Milford in Wilmington, Delaware, Shivaune Field in Los Angeles, Michael B. Marois in Sacramento and Jeff Plungis in Washington. Editors: Anthony Palazzo, Rob Golum. To contact the reporters on this story: Christopher Palmeri in Los Angeles at cpalmeri1@bloomberg.net; James Nash in Los Angeles at jnash24@bloomberg.net; Caroline Chen in New York at cchen509@bloomberg.net. To contact the editors responsible for this story: Anthony Palazzo at apalazzo@bloomberg.net; Ed Dufner at edufner@bloomberg.net; Stephen Merelman at smerelman@bloomberg.net.

Photo Credit: Pilot sits in front of the TSA security area after a shooting incident at Los Angeles airport. Lucy Nicholson / Reuters