Coroner: TSA officer died minutes after being shot

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Associated Press

Posted on November 21, 2013 at 12:33 AM

Updated Thursday, Nov 21 at 12:34 AM

LOS ANGELES (AP) — The Transportation Security Administration officer who was killed in a gunman's attack at Los Angeles International Airport died two to five minutes after he was shot, coroner's officials said Wednesday.

The detail comes after The Associated Press reported Friday that agencies are investigating whether paramedics could have come to TSA Officer Gerardo Hernandez's aid sooner after the Nov. 1 shooting.

Hernandez lay on the floor 20 feet from the exit for 33 minutes before he was rushed to an ambulance outside, even though the gunman had been subdued within five minutes, officials told AP. But it was unclear when Hernandez died or whether immediate medical attention could have saved his life.

Although Hernandez's autopsy hasn't been finalized, there was pressure to clarify when he died, said Assistant Chief Coroner Ed Winter. More details were expected to be released in a final report later this week, he said.

Formal conclusions could take months, but what's known raises the possibility that a lack of coordination between police and fire officials prevented speedy treatment for Hernandez and other victims.

Authorities say Paul Ciancia was targeting TSA workers in a vendetta against the federal government when he pulled a semi-automatic rifle out of a duffel bag inside Terminal 3 and shot Hernandez.

In court documents and interviews, authorities spelled out a chilling chain of events. After Ciancia fired repeatedly at Hernandez, he went up an escalator, turned back to see Hernandez move, and returned to shoot him again, according to surveillance video reviewed by investigators.

He then fired on two other uniformed TSA employees and an airline passenger, who all were wounded, as he moved methodically through the security checkpoint to the passenger gate area. Airport police shot him as panicked travelers hid in stores and restaurants.

Hernandez eventually arrived at the hospital with no signs of life and doctors worked for an hour to revive him.

A preliminary coroner's report said a bullet hit Hernandez's aorta, the main artery in the body, which would have caused the massive bleeding, according to a law enforcement official familiar with the findings. The official was not authorized to speak publicly about the investigation and spoke to AP on condition of anonymity.

In the chaos after the shooting, officers from multiple agencies checked on Hernandez before moving on, including at least one within three minutes of him being shot; no officers rendered first aid on scene, according to surveillance video reviewed by two law enforcement officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they weren't authorized to speak publicly about the investigation.

Officials were examining what conversations took place between police and fire commanders to determine when it was safe enough to enter, and whether paramedics could have gone into the terminal earlier, one of the officials said.

Airport officials said in a statement Wednesday that agencies are conducting "numerous investigations" and would release a report once the probes are completed.

News of how long it took to get Hernandez medical aid prompted the head of the TSA union, J. David Cox Sr., to say he was appalled and a local TSA union official said a more timely response might have saved Hernandez's life. The Los Angeles Police Department is investigating whether one of its officers improperly told other responders that Hernandez was dead when he checked on him five minutes after the shooting.

Airport police union President Marshall McClain has said the officer shouldn't have been the one to determine whether Hernandez was dead and should have helped him. While it was unclear if the officer was qualified to assess Hernandez's medical condition, the coroner's finding indicates Hernandez was likely dead at that point.

McClain declined to comment Wednesday because of the active internal investigation.

Los Angeles Police Chief Charlie Beck said in a statement Wednesday that the coroner's report shows Hernandez could not have been saved. He criticized "irresponsible" media reports.

"What concerns me most about this is that it brought needless trauma to the grieving family members of Officer Hernandez," Beck said.

Ciancia, 23, was transferred from a hospital into U.S. Marshals custody Tuesday. He could face the death penalty if convicted of a federal murder charge.

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Tami Abdollah can be reached at http://www.twitter.com/latams .

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