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Authorities: Man shot during machete attack at New Orleans airport justified

A still photo from a video shows Richard White holding a machete as he charges through a metal detector at the Louis Armstrong International Airport in New Orleans on March 20, 2015.
A still photo from a video shows Richard White holding a machete as he charges through a metal detector at the Louis Armstrong International Airport in New Orleans on March 20, 2015. New Orleans Advocate

Chae Lim mistook the commotion at first for a joke among the airport security screeners. Other travelers, clutching their IDs and boarding passes, believed a fight had broken out near the checkpoint.

But then the shouting began, and the attack unfolded within seconds at the entrance to Concourse B of Louis Armstrong International Airport outside New Orleans. Confusion gave way to panic, as bystanders dispersed and dived for cover.

Then gunfire rang out, leaving Lim hoping, as he later described it, that "none of the good guys" had been shot.

"At first I didn't quite comprehend what I was seeing," recalled Ronald Hicks, another witness, who came within feet of the machete-wielding assailant. "When I realized this is serious, I just ran through the X-ray machine."

When calm finally returned to the concourse, travelers withdrew cautiously from their hiding spots, some discovering injuries suffered in the hysteria. The attacker, Richard White, lay wounded and handcuffed, his intentions thwarted by an alert deputy sheriff.

White, 63, died of a gunshot wound to the thigh the day after the March 20, 2015, attack, having refused medical treatment because of his religious beliefs as a Jehovah's Witness.

Investigators retraced White's steps in the weeks that followed but could not determine the motive behind an attack that drew national attention, according to an extensive investigative file obtained by The New Orleans Advocate.

Family members said White battled depression and mental illness.

"He suffered," said his sister, Barbara Suggs. "I feel like something could have been done before his killing."

Authorities later deemed the shooting justifiable, concluding that Lt. Heather Sylve of the Jefferson Parish Sheriff's Office adhered to her training and had no alternative but to use deadly force to stop the attacker.

After receiving the case file from the Sheriff’s Office, the Jefferson Parish District Attorney’s Office refused in August 2015 to prosecute anyone involved in the case.

The investigative file, which includes previously unpublished surveillance footage, offers a meticulous account of an assault that easily could have become a massacre, underscoring the limitations of airport security and the vulnerabilities that unarmed Transportation Security Administration agents face on a daily basis.

White carried a small arsenal into the airport, including six Molotov cocktails, making it all the more remarkable that he was the only serious casualty.

Read more about this story at theneworleansadvocate.com

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