Joseph James, a former Clark County resident and legislative candidate, was just about to leave Terminal 3 at the Los Angeles International Airport on Friday morning when a loud sound stopped him in his tracks.
James said he had just grabbed his luggage from baggage claim and was heading for the exit when he heard what sounded like fireworks.
“As I turned around, I saw about 100 people running as fast as they could toward me, screaming,” he told The Columbian on Friday. “It was terrifying. I could tell that it was some sort of shooting rampage.”
James described the scene before police arrived as chaotic. At one point, someone told him the shooter had a bomb, and then he heard that there was more than one shooter. Although he later learned neither of those rumors were true, James decided at that moment to hide with a group in Terminal 3 rather than run outside and encounter another shooter.
Soon, James saw the first police officer arrive. “He just popped his trunk and he pulled out an assault rifle,” James recalled. “He said, ‘Don’t move. Don’t do anything. Just stay there.’” Then James saw “dozens and dozens” of law enforcement officers flood into the terminal, and he could hear helicopters flying overhead.
Eventually, officers moved James and the group to a safe zone in a different terminal. As he waited, he saw injured people being carried away to ambulances. Some witnesses waiting with him in the safe zone said they had seen the shooter asking people whether they worked for the Transportation Security Administration, or the TSA.
“They would say no, and he would just move on,” James said.
Hours later, James was able to leave the airport. By 4 p.m. he reached his hotel room and was catching up on news about the shooting. He had already been interviewed by at least two reporters.
“I’ve never experienced anything like it,” James said. “You have to make all these decisions in a split second. A lot of people were just kind of frozen. ... Fortunately the officers who showed up were extremely focused, and they just went right in and stopped (the shooter).”
James lived for several years in Clark County, where he met his wife and unsuccessfully ran to unseat state Rep. Tim Probst, D-Vancouver, in 2008. The next year, he left Clark County to pursue a career in film. He lives in a suburb of Salt Lake City and recently produced a movie called “The Freemason,” which will debut next year. He was traveling to Los Angeles on Friday to attend a buyers market for movie producers.
From now on, James said he’ll always be on alert when he’s at an airport, and he wishes he would have known what to do in that situation.
“I’m just always going to have that extra sense of caution and be alert with the hope that I might be able to be more effective,” he said. “When it happened I was just like everybody else and didn’t know what to do.”
The U.S. Department of Homeland Security advises that when faced with an active shooter, members of the public should first try to run away from the shooter. If that isn’t possible, they are encouraged to hide. They should fight the shooter as a last resort.
Stevie Mathieu: 360-735-4523 or www.facebook.com/reportermathieu or www.twitter.com/col_politics or firstname.lastname@example.org