Richard White, the Kenner man who was shot after he walked into New Orleans’ Louis Armstrong International Airport on Friday night and attacked security agents with a machete and wasp spray, died Saturday afternoon, about two hours after authorities revealed that he had Molotov cocktails with him in the airport and smoke bombs outside in his vehicle.
White died about 4 p.m. from wounds he received when a Jefferson Parish Sheriff’s Office officer shot him three times.
“This was an unexpected attack by a clearly disturbed and troubled individual,” New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu said Saturday about White’s actions. “Obviously, we are going to learn from this incident.”
The airport is owned by the city of New Orleans, even though it is in Kenner in Jefferson Parish.
For unknown reasons, White, a 63-year-old man described by a friend as “deeply religious” and “kind,” caused panic at the airport about 8 p.m. when he violently challenged the Transportation Security Administration agents at Concourse B, the area of the airport used by Southwest Airlines.
Jefferson Parish Sheriff Newell Normand said the incident started when White tried to go through the preclearance lane, causing one of the agents to ask him to halt. Normand said White sprayed two agents with a can of wasp spray and chased one of the officers, Caroll Richel, with a machete. White then began running up the exit ramp to the concourse, virtually into the arms of JPSO Lt. Heather Slyve, he said.
“He was probably within 3 to 4 feet of her,” Normand said Saturday, describing a chaotic scene involving Richel, White and a number of passengers waiting to go through security. “As they were running up the exit ramp to the concourse, he began running toward the officer. The officer began to fire because he was gaining on her very quickly.”
Slyve fired three shots, striking White in his chest, face and thigh, Normand said. Officials now believe that one of the shots went through White and hit Richel in the bicep, he added.
Shaken passengers later described a harrowing scene, with travelers screaming and dropping to the floor as TSA agents grabbed suitcases to defend themselves and were chased by the machete-wielding man.
At a news conference Saturday afternoon, after reviewing video footage of the scene, Normand said a few of the previously reported details were incorrect. He said no one was actually struck by White’s machete, as witnesses had previously described, and no member of the traveling public suffered a graze wound from a bullet, as Normand had reported.
“Not unlike a lot of incidents like this around the country, there was a desire on the airport officials’ and my end to get as much information in the hands of the media as possible in a very short period of time,” Normand explained Saturday.
He also said White was carrying a bag with him when he first approached the TSA agents — a detail that he said none of the witnesses recalled amidst the chaos.
Officials discovered the bag after reviewing video from a security camera shortly after the attack. About 15 minutes later, he said, officials began to notice a “gas smell” and noticed there was liquid leaking out of the bag.
“We immediately moved all of the passengers that were outside of Concourse B across the terminal building to the other side and cordoned that area off and called for a bomb squad,” Normand said.
White’s bag, left at the security gate after he began chasing the TSA agent with the machete, contained six half-pint Mason jars with cloth wicks flowing into gasoline, or Molotov cocktails, Normand said. The bag also had a barbecue lighter.
At that point, “almost simultaneously,” officials found his car, which a bomb squad would later determine had smoke bombs inside it, Normand said. Officials also found three tanks — of acetylene, freon and oxygen — in the trunk.
Shortly after the new details were made public Saturday, White succumbed to his wounds at a local hospital, where he had been taken in critical condition. White was a Jehovah’s Witness and had refused some medical treatment, Normand said.
Normand said officials have been unable to determine what White’s motive was, but they did discover he had a history of mental illness. The extent of his illness was unclear Saturday.
“No one at this point in time has any notion what may have triggered this behavior,” Normand said. “Sometimes you will never know what actually triggers some of this type of behavior.”
On Saturday, Landrieu and other officials praised the reactions of those on the scene, including members of the TSA, the JPSO, the New Orleans Fire Department and the State Police.
Landrieu said the airport, which fully reopened by 2 a.m. Saturday, was once again fully functional and safe for travelers.
“The security officials did everything they could to stop the perpetrator, to secure the scene, and they saved a lot of lives,” Landrieu said. “Security officials, as you know by now, acted quickly. They acted heroically. The airport is safe, the airport is open and the airport is fully operational.”
Normand praised Richel and other TSA members, who he said acted bravely despite not carrying weapons with which to defend themselves as White charged forward with a machete and tried to “disable” them by spraying their faces with wasp spray.
“They stood their ground as much as they could and, in many cases, delayed certain things. He headed back up the exit lane right up into our arms,” Normand said. “Had he made it down the concourse — who knows? Nobody will ever know.”
Richel, the TSA officer involved in the incident, credited Slyve, the JPSO officer who shot White, with saving her life and the lives of many others.
“She is my hero,” she said. “Thank God she was there.”
Richel also credited her training as a TSA agent, which takes place monthly at the airport, she said.
“When this all started happening, this was second nature. We wanted to make sure all the passengers are safe, so we tell them, ‘Run, run. You gotta get out of here, so run,’ ” Richel said. “Our job at TSA is to protect the passengers. And I’m proud to say they were protected.”