A manhunt is underway in Atlanta for a convicted felon who police say “accidentally” fired his handgun over the weekend at a TSA security checkpoint in the Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport.
Kenny Wells, 42, lunged for his firearm after TSA agents discovered it in his luggage, according to a press release by the agency. The firearm discharged at some point during the altercation, and Wells fled the airport with his handgun.
“A property search TSO… began a bag search due to a prohibited item identified by the X-Ray. He advised the passenger not to touch the property, and as he opened the compartment containing the prohibited item, the passenger lunged into the bag and grabbed a firearm, at which point it discharged,” the agency said the day of the incident.
Additional reporting, however, has cast some doubt on that initial description. Atlanta police won’t confirm how many times the gun went off, and local media spoke with witnesses who describe the sound of multiple shots.
“All of a sudden I hear bang, bang, bang. They’re telling us it was accidental discharge. I mean, three times though? that’s kind of hard,” one witness said.
Three people were injured during the ensuing chaos, but no one was shot.
Bruh this is going on right now at the Atlanta airport!!! pic.twitter.com/fA3QwszuRn— JamariJonesATL (@JamariJones_ATL) November 20, 2021
Law enforcement has issued warrants for Well’s arrest, and a manhunt is underway.
“We have taken out warrants for carrying concealed a weapon at a commercial airport, possession of a firearm by a convicted felon, discharging a firearm and reckless conduct,” Maj. Reginald Moorman, head of the Atlanta Police Department’s airport precinct, told the Washington Post. “We are actively pursuing this individual.”
Wells has a long criminal history. He was released from prison in 2000, and his offenses between 1997 and 2015 include burglary, forgery, impersonating an officer, false imprisonment, theft by taking, and possession of a firearm by a convicted felon, local media reports.
Neither police nor the TSA have said whether Wells was trying to bring a loaded firearm onto a plane or did so unintentionally.
This year alone, the TSA has found more than 450 firearms at checkpoints in Atlanta’s airport.
“This incident underscores the importance of checking personal belongings for dangerous items before leaving for the airport,” the agency said. “Firearms, particularly loaded firearms, introduce an unnecessary risk at checkpoints, have no place in the passenger cabin of an airplane, and represent a very costly mistake for the passengers who attempt to board a flight with them.”
Civil penalties for those who attempt to bring a loaded firearm or a firearm with accessible ammunition range between $3,000-$10,000 for a first-time offender and $10,000-$13,910 for a repeat violation. The agency also reserves the right to refer offenders to law enforcement.
For unloaded firearms, the penalty is $1,500-$2,475 plus a criminal referral.
Concealed carry license holders in Georgia might get away with a lesser penalty, Page Pate, a Georgia criminal defense attorney, told CNN.
“In Georgia, if you have a carry permit, the security staff just needs to notify you that you’ve left a gun in your bag, and then you just take it out of the airport,” he said. So, you’re rarely prosecuted for doing something like this, especially in Georgia, which has very pro-gun right-type legislation on the books.”
As a convicted felon in possession of a firearm, Wells has more to worry about than a few thousand dollars in TSA fines. Stay tuned for updates.