A teacher said Tuesday that he crawled to escape a gunman at Los Angeles International Airport and used a sweatshirt as a tourniquet after his leg was shattered during last week's deadly shooting.
"I didn't know what his intention was," Brian Ludmer said from his hospital bed. "I only saw me and him. ... I was in total panic."
Ludmer, 29, said he was heading to his hometown of Chicago to attend a wedding when gunshots erupted Friday on a floor below him as he waited in a long, snaking line at a Terminal 3 security checkpoint.
"It was hard to know what was going on, where the shots were coming from," he said.
Downstairs, Transportation Security Administration Officer Gerardo I. Hernandez was killed and the gunman was trying to shoot other TSA workers.
Ludmer recalled that he and other travellers pushed through metal detectors after hearing shots, scattering into the terminal and down ramps into bathrooms, shops and stores, even onto airplanes — anywhere to get away from the shooter.
As Ludmer ran, a bullet hit him in the calf.
Hid in a storage room
"My leg collapsed. It just instantly wouldn't support me," he said. "Below the bullet wound my leg was just hanging."
He looked back and saw the gunman alone in the terminal hallway. Ludmer collapsed against a wall and started crawling for his life on all fours. He found a shop, scrambled into a storage room and shut the door. He found a sweatshirt and tied it around his leg to reduce the bleeding.
Ludmer was terrified that he would pass out and bleed to death or the gunman would follow and finish him off.
Soon, however, he heard voices, dragged himself to the door and peeked out. A wave of relief swept over him when he realized police officers were clearing the terminal.
- Paul Ciancia, Los Angeles airport shooting suspect, remains sedated
- Paul Ciancia, suspected L.A. airport gunman, acted alone
Two officers told him they would get him out safely — but not quite yet, because the gunman might still be on the loose. Ludmer said his leg was bleeding, and he needed a paramedic. The officers helped him into a wheelchair and dashed through the terminal.
"They got me out of there, even though it was at great risk to themselves," he said. "They wheeled me out of there at a run."
They didn't know that airport police had actually shot and wounded the suspect, Paul Ciancia, within minutes of the attack.
Ludmer needs one more surgery but doctors expect him to make a full recovery.
About 1,500 students rallied at Calabasas High School west of downtown Los Angeles on Tuesday to honour the performing arts teacher and to protest gun violence. They held signs of support for Ludmer and chanted his name.
Ludmer said he was simply in the wrong place at the wrong time and called the gunman "sick," mentally ill and delusional.
"But whether you're sick or not, I don't see any lawful purpose for having access to those sorts of weapons," he said. "I don't see the benefit that is outweighing the cost that it seems to be continually taking."
Federal agents are investigating possible ties between Ciancia and a widely circulated conspiracy theory that the U.S. government is preparing to establish a totalitarian state.
The FBI got a warrant Monday to search Ciancia's cellphone for materials reflecting his "views on the legitimacy or activities of the United States government, including the existence of a plot to impose a New World Order," according to court documents.
Ciancia, a 23-year-old unemployed motorcycle mechanic, got a ride to LAX on Friday morning with a roommate, walked into the airport and began targeting TSA officers, authorities said.
Two wounded TSA agents have been released from the hospital.
Why airport security officers apparently came to personify oppression remained unclear.
The new world order belief holds that an international cabal of elites is planning to take away the guns and personal freedoms of Americans. Perceived masterminds behind the conspiracy have shifted over several generations, among them bankers, communists and the government itself.
The TSA does not regularly feature as a target of the theory's ire, according to Mark Potok, who has studied extremist groups for the Southern Poverty Law Center. More typically, believers focus on the Federal Emergency Management Agency, which according to the theory plans to build camps to detain resisters, Potok said.
However, the Department of Homeland Security oversees both FEMA and TSA.
Potok said he had seen no evidence that Ciancia was personally involved in hate groups.
Ciancia remained hospitalized in critical condition. He has been charged with first-degree murder of a federal officer and committing violence at an international airport but will not appear in court until he is cleared by doctors.