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Passenger fled with gun from Atlanta airport checkpoint, had outstanding warrant, police say

The situation unfolded Saturday afternoon and caused a widespread panic as all departures were halted and passengers were evacuated.
Credit: Romolo Tavani - stock.adobe.com

ATLANTA — The passenger whose weapon discharged at the domestic main checkpoint of Atlanta's Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport fled with the gun, Atlanta Police said.

Authorities are actively searching for the passenger, identified as 42-year-old Kenny Wells by the Atlanta Police Department. APD said Wells is a convicted felon, and there was a warrant out for his arrest prior to Saturday's incident at the airport. Authorities did not provide details on the suspect's prior conviction during a press conference held Saturday evening.

The incident, which happened around 1:30 p.m. local time, caused a widespread panic as all departures were halted and passengers were evacuated.

During the chaos, three people suffered non-life-threatening injuries and received medical attention, the Transportation Security Administration said in a statement

TSA said the incident began with a bag search when an agent at the checkpoint identified a prohibited item via the X-Ray. 

According to the released statement, the TSA officer "advised the passenger not to touch the property, and as he opened the compartment containing the prohibited item, the passenger lunged into the bag and grabbed a firearm, at which point it discharged."

APD said Wells grabbed the gun, it fired and he then ran off with the weapon. Officials said Wells is facing charges including the possession of an firearm of a convicted felon, discharge of a firearm by a convicted felon and reckless conduct.  

Credit: Atlanta Police Department
Kenny Wells, 42, has been identified by Atlanta Police as the passenger who fled with a gun after the weapon discharged at Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport on Nov. 20.

The Atlanta Airport had tweeted earlier Saturday afternoon there was not an active shooter at the airport, which was also confirmed in the TSA release.

"There is not an active shooter. There was an accidental discharge at the Airport. There is no danger to passengers or employees. An investigation is ongoing, more information will be published on this channel," the airport tweeted.

In a follow-up tweet, the airport said that a "weapon accidentally discharged at ATL's screening area." At that time, officials had not provided further details on the circumstances of the discharge.

A little before 3:30 p.m., the airport said officials had given an all-clear and that "normal operations are beginning."

Social media posts showed an evident panic caused by confusion following the discharge. Numerous accounts of passengers fleeing the airport were posted to social media.

One passenger, BYU professor Eva Witesman, tweeted she was waiting for the plane train when she heard "yelling and people rushing down the escalator from the security area" amid rumors of an active shooter. One video posted to social media showed numerous people on the ground in the security area, with cordons scattered about.

Videos and pictures showed passengers streaming off planes onto the tarmac, and being stuck waiting around terminals or in the airport hallways between plane train stops.

"The Wire" actor Tray Chaney posted a video to Twitter from the airport, saying he saw people crying, "everybody scattering, running for their life."

One video showed abandoned bags and seating areas in disarray following the panic:

TSA said more than 450 firearms have been detected at ATL checkpoints this year by its officers.

Passengers are allowed to travel with firearms in checked baggage "when they are unloaded and packed in a locked, hard-sided case" as stated by the TSA. Passengers who are lawfully carrying are also required to declare and present the case with the firearm at the airline check-in counter and inform the airline representative of their intention to travel with the firearms. 

These weapons will then be transported with checked luggage. Here's more information on how to properly travel with a firearm.