It was announced on Friday that the man at the centre of a dramatic escape last week remains on the run.
Major Marlin Gray, Atlanta’s police chief, announced that authorities have a suspect in custody in connection with last Friday’s gun incident at Hartsfield-Jackson airport that left passengers stunned. But he made no mention of the man at the centre of the question marks and heightened tensions about airport security during the incident.
Gray said a woman called 911 when her seven-year-old granddaughter came out of a Delta jetliner crying that a passenger had a gun and was firing at the ground. Gray said the grandmother had pulled the gun from a luggage cart.
No shots were fired, and no shots were fired by the man’s family, Gray said. He said the suspect, who has not been publicly identified, was interviewed by federal agents and the local police who responded to the airport, but he did not release details.
A bullet hole is visible at left point of this car at airport. Photograph: Aviation/AP
Atlanta’s metro police chief, George Turner, said that the woman who called 911 on Friday night gave a false description of the man. Instead, it was a second man – identified as Leann Williams, the grandson of the grandson of the woman who called 911. He was arrested at his apartment in an upscale gated community in southwest Atlanta, said Atlanta police department spokesman Carlos Campos.
The incident was captured on video. The video shows a woman running out of the terminal and clutching her granddaughter as other passengers can be heard shouting, “Oh my God!” and “That’s a gun.” Other passengers can be seen ushering a weeping and shaking girl to a nearby flight gate, where she is comforted by a flight attendant. A man who ran to the scene is then seen stepping over a group of people trying to help the girl to the gate area. He pours himself onto the tarmac, then jumps back onto the floor and appears to start knocking down people trying to help the girl. His actions, which appear to be aimed at getting the girl into a family’s car, seem to grow more erratic as he is stopped by a flight attendant and other passengers.
The man then gets into an SUV, which backs up and puts the SUV in reverse, shoving the grandmother out of the way before driving back toward the scene. An announcer on the now-cancelled radio talk show of former Atlanta Falcons quarterback Michael Vick is heard saying: “Get the baby away from there,” implying the child was still in danger. The police chief said: “We believe that child is safe.”
Speaking during a news conference at Atlanta’s Centennial Olympic Park, Gray said passengers saved the girl’s life.
“If you see the video that has just been released … there are a lot of people out there who showed tremendous courage,” Gray said.
But there was a question mark over whether the grandfather was a suspect, even though he was arrested. Campos said authorities have a suspect but would not release that name. He also said that the deputy director of the FBI in Atlanta had the same name as the grandfather and his home was not in the top 100 list of addresses in the FBI database.
He said it may take up to 24 hours to determine if a manhunt will continue for the grandfather.
Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, a Texas Democrat who represents parts of Atlanta, said during a news conference that she had met with the girl and her family. She said the girl “told me a man came to get her from the gate area and she had her father grab her” and drive her to the terminal. Jackson Lee said the girl also said that the man wore a mask.
Local broadcaster WXIA was the first to report that the boy seen in the video may have been that of the grandfather. On Friday, police released a photo of the boy wearing a ball cap and carrying a black bag. It appears that he is a biological son of the driver and a minor. The station said officials with the Fulton County child welfare agency have placed the girl with relatives.
They said she had been separated from her mother.
She told police she had walked away from the gate area, where she had been sitting with her sister and grandfather, and into the concourse, where she came across the vehicle.