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TSA officer killed in LAX shooting bled for 33 minutes before receiving help

Published time: November 16, 2013 01:39
Edited time: November 18, 2013 10:56
A portrait of slain TSA officer Gerardo Hernandez is seen during his public memorial at the Los Angeles Sports Arena, Tuesday, November 12, 2013. (AFP Photo / Al Seib)

A portrait of slain TSA officer Gerardo Hernandez is seen during his public memorial at the Los Angeles Sports Arena, Tuesday, November 12, 2013. (AFP Photo / Al Seib)

The Los Angeles Police Department has pledged to open an investigation into a claim that a TSA officer shot at LAX airport earlier this month lay on the ground bleeding for over half an hour as paramedics who could have helped stood by.

Transportation Security Administration Officer Gerardo Hernandez was shot in the chest at 9:20 a.m. on Nov. 1 when a gunman opened fire inside a terminal at Los Angeles International Airport. The suspected shooter, Paul Ciancia, was neutralized five minutes later, yet it took 28 minutes for paramedics to reach Hernandez, who was lying about 20 feet from an exit door.

Two law enforcement officials speaking on condition of anonymity told AP that paramedics were delayed because of a police order to stay away from the area.

Multiple officers were seen checking on Hernandez during the time before emergency personnel was allowed in, with one, a 26-year veteran of the LAPD, saying more than once that Hernandez was dead. 

When paramedics were finally allowed into the area, they helped Hernandez into a wheelchair and into a waiting ambulance. He was pronounced dead at the hospital, although it remains unclear if his life could have been saved had he received medical care earlier. 

When somebody is shot and they’re bleeding to death, lifesaving skills need to be implemented immediately, in a couple minutes, and they’re very simple, pressure dressings, tourniquets, adequate bandages to stop the bleeding,” said Dr. Lawrence E. Heiskell, a physician and reserve police officer who founded the International School of Tactical Medicine.  

“I basically think there’s a lack of coordination between entities at this airport. That lack of coordination may have led to something that shouldn’t have happened,” he said. “We may be talking about Office Hernandez as a survivor.” 

One person tried to walk past the officer to Hernandez and was told, “He’s dead,” to which they replied, “What do you mean he’s dead? If he’s dead, whatever, we can’t make that determination.”

The story has become a point of contention for TSA officers, especially Victor Payes, who worked with Hernandez and serves as the president of the local union. 

It has yet to be determined whether TSA policy is to blame or if police, fire, and other responding agencies failed to coordinate their actions. Upon hearing Friday’s news, the head of the TSA union told AP that the delay was “absolutely unacceptable.” 

It is possible that the delay was not caused by incompetence, but by safety policy. As mass shootings like the one in question become less rare, authorities have no choice but to train for a variety of situations they could suddenly experience. 

Ciancia was shot four times by security officers. As travelers tried to make their way to safety, there were reports of a possible second shooter in the area. Officials were also worried that there were bombs in the terminal. 

Marshall McClain, president of the Los Angeles Airport Peace Officers Association, said the events on Nov. 1 are evidence of a power struggle between police and fire officials. Police officers are usually the first responders to an emergency of this sort and, as such, fire and EMT crews are sometimes made to wait longer than necessary. 

McClain told AP that four command posts were set up directly after the shooting, none of which were clear on which agency was in charge of the scene. 

He also reported speaking with multiple people involved in the investigation who approached the officer standing in front of Hernandez. A doctor must be the person to declare a person dead, with decapitation the only exception to that rule.