KENNER, La. — A man sprayed wasp killer and swung a machete at TSA agents and passengers at the New Orleans international airport before an officer shot the man several times as people frantically scrambled away, authorities and passengers said.
Richard White, 62, approached the airport security checkpoint Friday evening, pulled out a can of the insecticide and began spraying both agents and several passengers standing in line before he then drew a large machete from the waistband of his pants, Jefferson Parish Sheriff Newell Normand said.
White began swinging the machete and a male TSA agent blocked the machete with a piece of luggage as White ran through a metal detector, Normand said.
“This guy comes running with a machete over his head, swinging it through security, and then he hops a bench and comes toward my wife and I, and I start swinging my suitcase at him, and he runs the other way, right into a TSA agent,” passenger Mike Cross told CBS New Orleans affiliate WWL-TV.
After running through the detector, White was chasing a female TSA agent when Lt. Heather Slyve of the Jefferson Parish Sheriff’s Office drew her weapon. White continued to swing the machete as she approached, and she fired three rounds, striking him in the face, chest and leg, according to Normand.
A TSA agent also was struck in the arm by a bullet while running from White, authorities said, adding the agent’s wound wasn’t life-threatening.
White, who was wounded, was taken into surgery at a hospital overnight, Normand said. There was no immediate update early Saturday on White’s condition.
Bystanders described minutes of panic and chaos at the airport in the New Orleans suburb of Kenner.
“Everyone was ducking for cover. It’s New Orleans. I knew they (the gunshots) were coming from the security checkpoint area,” said Garret Laborde, 31, a traveler trying to fly to Houston. “I immediately ducked down … Then we waited.”
He called the scene “instant chaos” with “screaming, lots of females screaming for a short period of time.” Some bystanders ran to get out of the way and received minor cuts and bruises, the sheriff said.
Laborde said he remained down for several minutes. He said police then began rushing around the airport, telling everyone to duck and get back down, and that sirens went off and announcements could be heard for people to evacuate. He said the tension eased later and he was outside the airport when he saw a man being taken out on a stretcher.
Normand said investigators were trying to determine what White was doing at the airport. He said it did not appear that he was trying to get on a plane.
“At this point, we have only been able to determine that Richard White had a few minor arrests,” said a sheriff’s statement emailed early Saturday by agency spokesman Col. John N. Fortunato. He said authorities later found White’s car outside the terminal and searched it.
Logan Tucker, 26, of Meridian, Mississippi, and Phillip Green, 33, of Houston, both headed to Houston for work as deckhands on a tugboat, said they were about 25 yards from where events unfolded.
“I heard the gunshots,” Tucker said.
“It was pandemonium after that,” Green said. “I took cover. I didn’t want to become part of the story.”
Green said they saw the machete and the suspect on the ground as they were leaving. The knife was about 14 inches long, he said.
He said he saw a TSA agent with an injury to her arm. “It was not something you expect in an airport, and I’ve traveled a lot,” Tucker said.
But not all in the airport complex were aware of events.
Brett Leonard, whose flight from San Francisco landed in New Orleans shortly before the attack, said passengers in the baggage claim area had no indication of what happened until they walked outside after picking up their bags. He said dozens of police cars were parked outside the terminal with lights flashing, and a nearby police officer told him that someone had attacked a TSA officer moments before.
Leonard said he was put into a cab with several strangers as police tried to evacuate the area.
“It was just very confusing; we didn’t know what was going on,” Leonard said.