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Teacher wounded in L.A. airport shooting recounts crawling to safety

By Steve Gorman

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - A high school teacher wounded in a deadly shooting frenzy at Los Angeles International Airport said on Tuesday he crawled to safety on his hands and knees and tied a sweatshirt around his own bleeding leg in the desperate moments before police came to his aid.

Brian Ludmer, 29, said he managed to take cover inside the small storage room of an airport retail shop after being knocked to the floor by gunfire and looking back to catch a fleeting glimpse of the suspect, standing silently a short distance away.

Ludmer said he feared the assailant might give chase and try to finish him off.

"I didn't know his intentions. I didn't see anyone else around. So I just started to try crawling," he said.

Ludmer, who teaches stagecraft and is technical director for the performing arts at Calabasas High School northwest of Los Angeles, recounted his ordeal in a telephone interview from his hospital bed, where he is recovering from a bullet wound that shattered his lower right leg.

He was one of four people shot by a gunman who opened fire with an assault-style rifle on Friday morning inside Terminal 3 of the sprawling Los Angeles airport, known as LAX, the world's sixth busiest.

The three other victims were all uniformed security officers of the Transportation Security Administration, and one of them, Gerardo Hernandez, 39, was killed, becoming the first TSA agent slain in the line of duty.

The suspect, identified as a 23-year-old Los Angeles man with New Jersey roots, Paul Anthony Ciancia, was himself shot and critically wounded by airport police and taken into custody. He remained hospitalized on Tuesday in critical condition.

Ludmer, who was headed for a friend's wedding in Chicago the day of the shooting, recalled he was standing in line at the terminal's security checkpoint when he and other passengers heard gunfire coming from a lower floor.

CROUCHED, THEN RAN

Everyone crouched down initially, then ran through the security checkpoint away from the gunfire toward the rear of the terminal as TSA agents frantically waved the crowd through the metal detectors.

Ludmer said he was about halfway between the metal detectors and the gate area when he was struck by a gunshot that pierced his right calf and grazed his lower left leg, and he collapsed near a wall.

"My (right) leg just turned to jelly," he said. "Initially I tried to stand, which didn't work ... and I really thought at that moment I was just going to get shot again."

Crawling farther down the corridor, he reached the alcove of a small airport news stand or snack shop, scrambled behind the counter, found an entrance to a storage closet and ducked inside, closing the door behind him.

Realizing how badly wounded his leg was, Ludmer said he feared he might bleed to death, so he grabbed a sweatshirt from inside the chamber and used it to fashion a tourniquet around his shattered limb.

Moments later, he heard a few more gunshots, then silence, followed by the sound of voices he took to be police officers. Afraid that he might pass out from loss of blood and not be found in time, he opened the door, crawled back out of the storage room and called for help.

Airport police came to his assistance, put him into a wheelchair and whisked him out of the terminal to safety.

On Tuesday, some 1,500 students from his high school staged a half-hour "walk-out" from classes to show their support for Ludmer and to protest gun violence. Ludmer was able to see and hear the rally over an iPhone video phone link.

"It was really amazing he said," he said of his students.

Ludmer said he has already undergone two operations to his leg and will eventually have a third, after which he faces months of rehabilitation.

"It seems I have retained full motion and sensation in my foot, which is a good sign, so hopefully I'll make a full recovery," he said, adding, "It'll be a long road, though."

(Reporting by Steve Gorman; Editing by Cynthia Johnston and Lisa Shumaker)

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