Airport conducts analysis of response to gun discharge in terminal

Travelers go through security at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport Sunday, November 21, 2021. STEVE SCHAEFER FOR THE ATLANTA JOURNAL-CONSTITUTION

Credit: Steve Schaefer

caption arrowCaption
Travelers go through security at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport Sunday, November 21, 2021. STEVE SCHAEFER FOR THE ATLANTA JOURNAL-CONSTITUTION

Credit: Steve Schaefer

Credit: Steve Schaefer

Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport is conducting a forensic analysis of the Nov. 20 gun discharge at the main security checkpoint, an incident that caused panic in the terminal as hundreds of people fled to the exits.

During an Atlanta city council transportation committee meeting Wednesday morning, Hartsfield-Jackson general manager Balram Bheodari said the airport has started an internal review. And, as part of that, officials are examining “every single element of our response and response plan,” he said.

They are also meeting with U.S. Transportation Security Administration leaders from Washington, D.C. to review the findings with them, Bheodari said.

The incident started when a passenger’s bag was being searched for a prohibited item. The passenger — identified as 42-year-old Kenny Wells Jr. by law enforcement — grabbed the gun, which discharged. The man then fled with the gun, and “it created panic within the main security checkpoint that had approximately several hundred passengers,” Bheodari said.

Wells was able to escape amid the melee. The incident prompted a ground stop that temporarily affected some flights around the country that were bound for Atlanta.

The gun was found in a trash can at the airport a few days later. Wells turned himself in to Clayton County jail on Tuesday, 10 days after the incident.

After the gun discharged, Bheodari said, law enforcement behind the security checkpoint “immediately took action and radioed into our command center,” which dispatched more law enforcement personnel.

But he acknowledged that the airport could improve on its response to the panic that ensued among the passengers in the terminal after the gun went off. In fear and confusion, travelers ran from the area, knocking over stanchions and rushing out the exits of the domestic terminal. In the rest of the airport, some passengers went out on the tarmac and others flooded into the Plane Train tunnel.

Bheodari said officials are reviewing CCTV footage.

“There’s always lessons to learn, and there’s always areas we could strengthen,” he said. “The panic and self-evacuation of our customers — we’re looking very closely (to) see where we could improve, to bring a sense of calmness to our customers in incidents like this moving forward.”

About the Author

Editors' Picks