Police say Kenny Wells, 42, had accidentally discharged the weapon after he “lunged” for the firearm while a TSA officer was performing a secondary search on his bag. He grabbed the gun and fled the airport, along with other travelers who were running for the exits during the commotion.
The Atlanta Police Department said Saturday that officers immediately began searching for Wells, which was a “challenge” due to the number of travelers who were also evacuating the airport.
A representative for the department confirmed Tuesday that Wells was not yet in custody.
No one was directly injured by the gunfire, but at least three people requested medical assistance, including one traveler who said they fell, and two who said they were short of breath.
Plenty of other passengers, however, experienced panic and confusion immediately after hearing the firearm discharge. Many travelers initially believed there was an active shooter in the airport, according to early reactions on Twitter.
Some of the travelers shared photos and video of the ensuing confusion, with one video showing several people crawling or laying on the floor. Another said there was a “stampede” out of the Delta terminal after hearing the gunshot.
Airport officials and TSA initiated a ground stop shortly after the incident at 1:30 p.m. In the hour that followed, airport representatives confirmed the incident was not caused by an active shooter, but rather an “accidental discharge” at the security screening area. An all-clear was given around 3:20 p.m.
“This incident underscores the importance of checking personal belongings for dangerous items before leaving for the airport,” the TSA stated in a news release issued Saturday. The agency also noted that “more than 450” firearms had been detected at the Atlanta airport’s checkpoints in 2021 alone.
Earlier this month, the TSA had also remarked on a sharp increase in the number of guns detected at TSA checkpoints in 2021. As of Oct. 3, the agency had spotted more guns in travelers’ bags than during any other year in the past two decades.
TSA Administrator David Pekoske called the trend “alarming” in a press release.
“Firearms, particularly loaded firearms, introduce an unnecessary risk at checkpoints, have no place in the passenger cabin of an airplane, and represent a very costly mistake for the passengers who attempt to board a flight with them,” Pekoske said.