LOS ANGELES – Richard Whittington of Austin, Texas, was traveling with his 79-year-old mother, Letta Lou, when a gunman opened fire at a ticket counter at the Los Angeles International Airport. He said they froze after the shots.
"We were waiting for something else to happen, a bomb or something," he said.
The attack Thursday left three people dead, including the gunman, an Egyptian man who was killed by an El Al security guard. The FBI said the man appeared to be acting alone, and that there was no immediate indication of a terrorist link.
The airport was jammed with holiday travelers when May Park entered the international terminal.
Park, of Miami, was standing near the counter for Israeli airline El Al when he heard three shots — "just bang, bang, bang, in a row."
Three people fell to the ground. Then, stunned silence. And then, panic.
Some travelers ran for the doors, some dove behind ticket counters, some took refuge in airline offices.
"This is impossible," Park said. "I couldn't believe it."
Hakin Hasidh, 43, of Dusseldorf, Germany, was standing in a line next to the El Al counter when he heard shots. He said he turned to see the gunman, who quickly was tackled by three men who looked to Hasidh like passengers. The shots appeared to be random, he said.
"It's really hard to tell whether he was aiming at the counter, at people behind the counter or at people in line," Hasidh said.
Police quickly cleared the international terminal and closed the road running in front of it, causing a huge traffic jam on highways already busy with July 4 travelers.
The airport's domestic terminals, housed in several buildings separate from the international terminal, remained open, though traffic was slow. All international departures were halted for at least four hours after the shooting.
Airport officials said 6,000 passengers were delayed.
Alma Rodriguez of Los Angeles waited in frustration for her mother-in-law to arrive from Guadalajara, Mexico.
"The airline told [us] her plane landed. But she can't come out, and we can't go in," she said.
Some travelers criticized security for even allowing a gun in the terminal.
"I'm very angry against American security," said Herve Fleurioc, 37, of Pours, France, who was checking baggage at the El Al counter when the gunman opened fire. "It could have been a human bomb. It's a sham. It should not have happened."
For others, the disruption and the uncertainty over the gunman's motive intensified fears of traveling on July 4 — fears heightened before the shooting by government warnings of possible terrorist attacks.
Sugi Faiz, who was waiting with her 9-year-old daughter for an El Al flight, panicked when she heard the shots. "We ran and ran," she said.
Her daughter clung to her, and "is very, very scared," Faiz said.
She said she planned to cancel her two-week vacation in Toronto.
"It's just not worth it," she said.