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Police ‘actively pursuing’ suspect who accidentally discharged gun at Atlanta airport

Authorities searched for gun owner Kenny Wells on Nov. 21, a day after his weapon went off at the airport in Atlanta, and he fled with the gun. (Video: Reuters)

Police are looking for a man who accidentally discharged a firearm at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport on Saturday after he grabbed the gun and fled, officials said.

Flights at the airport were temporarily halted on Saturday after the firearm was discharged at a security checkpoint, causing chaos at the nation’s busiest airport and raising security concerns during the start of a busy week of Thanksgiving travel.

The suspect was identified by the police as Kenny Wells, 42. Maj. Reginald Moorman, head of the Atlanta Police Department’s airport precinct, said at a news conference that the police had issued an arrest warrant and were “actively pursuing” Wells, a convicted felon. Moorman declined to provide details about Wells’s criminal history.

About 1:30 p.m. Saturday, a Transportation Security Administration officer spotted a prohibited item via X-ray in Wells’s carry-on bag, the TSA said. The officer instructed Wells not to touch the item, officials said, but as the officer moved to open the bag, Wells allegedly lunged and grabbed the firearm, which went off, before he fled.

Wells faces charges of carrying a concealed weapon at an airport, possession of a firearm by a convicted felon, discharging a firearm and reckless conduct, Moorman said.

Officials had scrambled to quell concerns of an active shooter after the noise of the gunfire had created what airport spokesman Andrew Gobeil described as a “sense of chaos.”

Airport and TSA officials initiated a “ground stop,” the agency said, temporarily halting air traffic at the airport to allow the Atlanta Police Department to investigate. Screening resumed about 3:20 p.m. after police gave the all-clear, TSA officials said.

The agency said early reports indicate three people sustained non-life-threatening injuries.

TSA said its officers have detected more than 450 firearms at checkpoints at Hartsfield-Jackson in 2021. Nationwide, TSA agents have caught a record-breaking number of firearms this year. Last month, TSA said its officers had found 4,495 firearms so far this year, breaking a record set in 2019. The rate of firearms per passenger screened was more than double in 2021 than in 2019, the TSA said.

According to TSA, the number of people expected to fly during the Thanksgiving travel period is expected to reach near pre-pandemic levels. The agency reported that it screened more than 2.24 million passengers on Friday, the most since the start of the pandemic. But the highest volume of passengers is expected to come on the Sunday after Thanksgiving, officials said.

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Hartsfield-Jackson is a major hub for Delta Air Lines, which issued a statement Saturday thanking law enforcement officials for their quick response.

“We appreciate the rapid and professional response of the Atlanta Police Department and Atlanta Department of Aviation in responding to today’s event and their always-on commitment to the safety and security of our employees and customers,” the airline said.

The airline issued a travel waiver to assist customers affected by the incident.

“Delta is coordinating with TSA and Atlanta airport officials to accommodate customers as quickly and safely as possible,” the airline said. “We are also working to proactively accommodate customers who may have missed a flight.”