Bakersfield man thought 'I'm dead' when faced with LAX shooter

Bakersfield man thought 'I'm dead' when faced with LAX shooter »Play Video
Lisa and Rex Despain, of Bakersfield, Calif., recount their near-death experience with the gunman at Los Angeles International Airport, during an interview Monday, Nov. 4, 2013, with Eyewitness News. (KBAK/KBFX photo)

BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KBAK/KBFX) — Bakersfield couple Rex and Lisa Despain wanted to go away for a special occasion. The couple planned to depart from Los Angeles International Airport on Friday, but their trip was interrupted by a gunman and a lightning bolt of violence.

"It was our trip for our 30th wedding anniversary. We were going to fly to Cancun," said Rex Despain.

The couple were going through a security checkpoint, having their documents checked by Transportation Security Administration agent Gerardo Hernandez. The Despains were talking and joking with Hernandez, who they described as friendly and helpful.

Suddenly, shots rang out.

"The wall behind (Hernandez) exploded, and he went down very quickly," said Rex Despain during an interview Monday night with Eyewitness News.

Chaos ensued as people began running.

Gunman Paul Ciancia, a 23-year-old unemployed motorcycle mechanic with suspected anti-government views, allegedly targeted TSA officers. TSA screener Hernandez was killed in the shooting, and two others were injured.

Police said the gunman returned and fired another shot into Hernandez, who was lying on the ground.

As the crowd ran one way, Rex Despain was afraid there could be more than one shooter and was afraid the crowd could be running into an ambush. He decided to go in another direction. He spotted an area marked "employees only" and told his wife to hide under a podium.

To their dismay, the gunman spotted them.

"When he turned left and walked toward us, I said, 'Lisa, I'm dead.'" recounted Rex Despain.

Realizing the gunman might start shooting, Rex stood up to distract attention away from his wife and came face-to-face with Ciancia, who was pointing an assault rifle at him.

"And then I waited for him to shoot me. He raised the gun at my chest," Rex Despain described. "He was just looking at me, and then he said, 'TSA?' I said, 'No, no.'"

Though the encounter lasted just seconds, it seemed to go on forever, said Rex Despain. Ciancia walked away, and the shooting continued. Rex and Lisa Despain eventually made their way out of the airport.

The couple were saddened to learn about the death of TSA agent Hernandez.

Ciancia was finally taken down by police and arrested. It would be hours before the couple would be allowed to finally leave LAX as police continued processing the crime scene.