Richard White, 63, has been identified by authorities as the man who stormed a passenger security line on Friday night (March 20, 2015) at Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport.
Armed with insect spray and a machete during the attack, White has been identified as a Jehovah’s Witness, according to a former neighbor who spoke with him only last week.
According to Jefferson Parish Sheriff Newell Normand, White charged past Transportation Safety Administration agents in Concourse B, spraying insecticide into their eyes and brandishing a machete just before 8 p.m. JPSO Lt. Heather Slyve, who was stationed at the security checkpoint, opened fire, apparently striking White three times but also shooting a female TSA agent in the arm and grazing a male traveler.
Normand told reporters it was unclear whether White was at the airport as a traveler. “We’re still piecing together witness interviews,” he said.
White is said to have walked down a TSA Pre-Check security line into Concourse B shortly before 8 p.m. and was challenged by an officer who was checking for his boarding pass, Sheriff Newell Normand said. He then pulled out a can of wasp spray and sprayed the officer.
White ran past two other officers and then pulled a large machete from his waistband, Normand said. A TSA agent blocked the weapon using a piece of luggage as White ran through the magnetometer, he said.
The sheriff said White approached JPSO Lt. Heather Slyve, a deputy stationed at the checkpoint, swinging the machete. Slyve fired three rounds, striking White in the left chest area, the left facial area and the left thigh, Normand said.
White was taken to the hospital, where he was described by Normand as “unresponsive.” He was in surgery late Friday.
Sheriff Newell Normand said, White was a taxi driver and recently received a chauffeur’s license. He has a minimal criminal history — “some ‘disturbing the peace’ charges and a couple of traffic attachments.”
Donna Jackson, a former neighbour, told The Times Picayune, New Orleans that White was a former Army serviceman, long since retired and living off Social Security and disability checks. “He also was a deeply religious man”, she said, “a Jehovah’s Witness who shunned Western medicine and encouraged Jackson to use herbal remedies, even to treat her diabetes.”
Jackson said the Whites attend the Kingdom Hall of Jehovah’s Witnesses near the airport at 301 Veterans Memorial Blvd. in Kenner.
“I’m shocked,” Jackson said. “I had just seen him over here at the Walmart a week ago Wednesday. We talked about a half-hour, 45 minutes. He said him and his wife were doing fine. I didn’t detect that anything was going wrong.”
Authorities have not offered a motive for White’s conduct at the airport. And Jackson, who knew the couple for some time, could not imagine what would have prompted his attack on the security agents.
Logan Tucker, 26, of Meridian, Mississippi, and Phillip Green, 33, of Houston, both headed to Houston for work as deck hands on a tugboat, said they were about 25 yards from where events unfolded.
“I heard the gunshots,” Tucker said.
“It was pandemonium after that,” Green said. “I took cover. I didn’t want to become part of the story.”
Green said they saw the machete and the suspect on the ground as they were leaving. The knife was about 14 inches long, he said.
He said he saw a TSA agent with an injury to her arm. “It was not something you expect in an airport, and I’ve traveled a lot,” Tucker said.
But not all in the airport complex were aware of events.
NBC Nightly News Authorities look for motive Link
USA Today – New Orleans airport machete suspect is dead Link
Video report – The Independent Link
The Times Picayune, – Accused airport attacker was “so meek, so mild, former neighbor says Link
BBC – US police shoot attacker at New Orleans airport Link
AP News – Man swinging a machete shot at New Orleans airport Link
(AP Photo/NOLA.com The Times-Picayune, Michael DeMocker, Nola.com)