Miami Airport Shooting
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RAY SUAREZ: An official from the federal air marshal service described what happened in Miami a short time ago. Here’s an excerpt of what he said.
JAMES BAUER: At approximately 2:10 this afternoon, American Airlines Flight 924 was boarding at Gate D.-42 — it was in the boarding process. An individual later tentatively identified as Rigoberto Alpizar, age 44, was boarding that aircraft as well.
At some point, he uttered threatening words that included a sense that, in fact, that he had a bomb. There were federal air marshals on board the aircraft. They came out of their cover, confronted him, and he remained noncompliant with their instructions.
As he was attempting to evade them, his actions caused the FAM’s to fire shots and, in fact, he is deceased.
The Miami-Dade Police Department responded to this event and in fact are conducting the shooting investigation.
The FBI also responded to this, and a crime was committed aboard an American carrier aircraft and they have jurisdiction in that matter, and to see whether or not there’s a nexus to terrorism.
RAY SUAREZ: Sara Goo has been covering this story for the Washington Post and she joins me now.
Sara, what do we know, if anything, about Rigoberto Alpizar? Was he a Floridian getting on a plane to leave Miami Airport? Was he in transit? Had he just come in from Colombia as that flight had?
SARA GOO: We are still learning a little bit about this man but we do know that he’s 44-years-old. We are told by Homeland Security officials that he is a U.S. citizen. This flight originated in Colombia, stopped in Miami and then was to go on at this point to Orlando.
We have heard reports that this gentleman was on the original flight from Colombia, but federal officials say everyone from that plane departed, cleared customs, and then re-boarded again.
RAY SUAREZ: And the air marshal, would he have been at that point boarding the flight along with Mr. Alpizar?
SARA GOO: We don’t know anything about the air marshal’s itinerary; that information is not publicly available to us.
We do know that they go on a number of international flights through agreements with nations across the world, and so they very well could have been on the original flight from Colombia and continuing on, but clearly they were responding to this instant that happened originally on the aircraft, and then of course now we know deadly — it ended deadly on the jet way.
RAY SUAREZ: Has any kind of device or bomb-like device been found either in Alpizar’s hand luggage on what he had checked on the plane to travel with?
SARA GOO: No, in fact, the reports so far indicate that this man might have been mentally unstable. Some reports from witnesses who were on the aircraft at the time said that he ran from the back of the plane near where his seat was to the front near the cockpit.
His wife, apparently with him, was telling passengers or screaming that he was unstable. He had mental problems. He had not taken his medication.
So I’m sure that will be a big part of this investigation going forward. For one, we don’t know whether air marshals have any training in how to deal with someone who is not a terrorist but might have, you know, might be mentally unstable.
RAY SUAREZ: Well, what do we know about the sequence of events? Was he told by the air marshals to get down, to stop, to drop what he was carrying?
SARA GOO: Yes. I’ll tell you a little bit about what we do know as the events unfolded, before this plane even took off from the ground, passengers have said that he was boarding the plane. All 114 passengers on this flight had been boarded, were in their seats. The crew had not yet closed the cabin door for departure.
The man got up from his seat near the back of the plane, and, as I said, ran towards the front, the wife apparently screaming.
At that point near the cockpit, the air marshals apparently confronted him, and he said he had a bomb in his bag, in his carry-on bag which he had with him. They told him to stop; he did not. Instead, he exited the aircraft through the jet way. They followed him from what we are told from federal officials. They confronted him, told him to get on the ground; he didn’t comply apparently, apparently even reached into his bag, and that is why the shots were fired.
RAY SUAREZ: Do you know what rules air marshals are obliged or trained to follow in cases like this when it comes time to use lethal force?
SARA GOO: Yeah, Ray. I’ve actually been to the federal air marshal training facility in Atlantic City, N.J., where they are trained in very specific tactics, in close quarters, of course, shooting from short ranges, and from a confined seating position.
These air marshals are not your average cops on the street; they’re very, very well trained. There’s a high washout rate of them who don’t even make it into this program, so they’re very well trained in how to deal with physical confrontational situations.
And this is the first time that we’ve known where an air marshal has actually fired his weapon with a deadly consequence.
RAY SUAREZ: Well, what happens after an incident like this? You have, as you mentioned, over 100 passengers trying to get on a plane to go somewhere else entirely. Is the plane sequestered? Are the passengers set off to one side and interviewed? What goes on?
SARA GOO: Well, this is the digital age, so we saw a lot of this unfold on television, on national television. But we did see what the airport officials told us was the passengers were deplaned after this, apparently some of them interviewed, their luggage screened, themselves screened again.
Some of them we were told from the airport were actually allowed to go on to their flights eventually this early evening. But, you know, a lot of this is a gray area.
For example, the FBI is I charge of investigating crimes aboard an aircraft. This really didn’t take place — at least the shooting — on the aircraft but on the jet way. So, moving forward, we’re in a really entirely new area here.
RAY SUAREZ: So it’s not really clear what the agency of authority and the agency of responsibility is in this case?
SARA GOO: Well, we know that the Miami police clearly have a role because it happened at the airport. The FBI initially is responding.
But a number of these questions are probably going to be ferried out in the next couple of days between the Department of Homeland Security, which employs the air marshals, and the FBI, which responds to a terrorist incident.
In this case, as we just learned from the press conference, so far they don’t think this man who was killed was a terrorist suspect at all.
RAY SUAREZ: Sarah Goo from The Washington Post, thanks for joining us.
SARA GOO: Thanks, Ray.