First person: Caught in chaos at LAX shooting

Editor’s note: Intersections Reporter Corps member Shanice Joseph was at LAX the day Paul Ciancia, 23, opened fire in a shooting rampage that killed a TSA agent. Ciancia recently pled not guilty to 11 federal charges, and is slated for a Feb. 11 trial in Los Angeles.

Terminal 3 at LAX. Flickr/Mike Ambs

Terminal 3 at LAX. Flickr/Mike Ambs

The Los Angeles International Airport was the last place I wanted to be on Friday, Nov. 1, 2013.

It wasn’t like I was boarding a plane for a fabulous and much-needed vacation to the beaches of Jamaica. I was there at 11 a.m. to attend yet another long training for my new job.

I woke up early that day and quickly remembered why I needed a job in the first place: I needed money for the bus. I managed to collect $1.20 — 30 cents short — and hoped for a nice bus driver who would let it slide.

As I left, my grandmother asked where I was headed. When I said “LAX,” her usual smile thinned into an unhappy straight line. She is going through chemotherapy and has to see a doctor five days a week for 18 weeks. Since I’ve been busy with job training, I have yet to escort her. I can’t afford to miss my training and lose my job with G2 Secure Staff, a contracted company for American Airlines. As a “cabin agent” I’m responsible for basic cleaning — closing windows, organizing magazines, dusting off seats, picking up trash and sweeping.

My grandmother understands the predicament. She is pleased I found a job. But most importantly, she wants me to continue with college. One of her dreams is to see me graduate, and disappointing my grandmother is not an option. How can I balance work and school?

On the bus to LAX, I considered the bright side. No, I didn’t have a dime to my name, but I did get a nice bus driver, and for once I would arrive early. I had been looking for a job for some time now, and was lucky to find one that fits my schedule at Long Beach City College.

But I was still preoccupied. Although I would love to focus solely on school, my family and I need the money the new job would provide. Somehow, I would have to balance working full time with being a full time student.

While I racked my brain, a guy sat next to me in a uniform similar to mine — probably a coworker. I wanted to ask him about the job and the company, but he was busy on the phone, talking so loud I heard him over my earphones.

“Wow, really?” he said. “So I guess I don’t have to go to work today.”

Why? That just seemed so odd.

The LAX police department. | Flickr/

The LAX police department. | Flickr/yekefan1

I soon found out for myself. Around 10 a.m. my aunt texted me about a “shooting in progress at LAX.” I found it hard to believe, knowing that LAX is one of the safest places in Southern California. It wasn’t until I looked out the window and saw LAPD, LAXPD and FBI cars speeding by that I thought something must be terribly wrong.

Sure enough, as soon as I arrived at the LAX City Bus Center I got a call stating that job training was cancelled.

I stood beneath five whirring helicopters, surrounded by chaos and confusion. I was scared. I sat down to try to figure out what happened.

Supposedly, a 23-year-old man had opened fire in Terminal 3, killing a TSA agent, wounding several others and causing the widespread panic that I was witnessing.

For 17 years I have lived in Watts. The neighborhood is supposed to be one of the most dangerous in California, but it never fails: I see some of the craziest things once I leave Watts.

I wanted to cry because I have a low tolerance for more chaos than what is already on my plate. But on the bright side, I was okay. I felt confused but I was sympathetic for the victims, especially the family of the slain TSA agent.

Back on the bus headed home, I mulled over my morning.

On the way to LAX I was upset because my life appeared to be circling down the toilet. On my way back, I was relieved that I had survived a shooting rampage. I had seen a chaotic situation spiral out of control in a way that even LAX couldn’t control. And I realized the truth in what my mom had told me: “You’ll never experience a dull moment working there.”

I still had no answers about balancing work and school. But the LAX shooting reminded me that life throws us curveballs in the most unlikely of times and places. I would reschedule the job training, I would take care of my grandmother, and I would scrape up spare change for the bus. I would keep at school, and I would come back to LAX.

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