Eleven days after he was killed in an airport shooting, TSA Agent Gerardo I. Hernandez was hailed as a devoted family man, a dedicated worker and, on more than one occasion, a hero.
Scores of law enforcement officers and a few top federal officials, including Atty. Gen. Eric Holder and Transportation Security Administrator John Pistole, gathered Tuesday at the L.A. Memorial Sports Arena to honor the first TSA agent killed in the line of duty.
Hernandez's death in the Nov. 1 attack at Los Angeles International Airport "marked him as a man of bravery and of valor," Holder said. "But what truly made Officer Hernandez a hero was how he lived: with kindness, with consideration — and with love — for all who were fortunate to know him."
Those who worked with Hernandez said he spoke often of his family — wife Ana and their children, 14-year-old Luis and 11-year-old Stephanie. He was quick to greet both airport workers and passengers with a smile, his colleagues said, with his contagious charisma.
In a statement read to the crowd, Ana Hernandez called her husband a "great man who always showed his love for our family." He would have turned 40 last weekend, she said.
The memorial was open to the public but was primarily attended by law enforcement officers, public officials and Hernandez's family and friends. L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti attended, along with LAPD Chief Charlie Beck and L.A. County Sheriff Lee Baca.
Those in the arena heard how seriously Hernandez took his responsibilities as a behavior detection officer. Many who spoke acknowledged the difficulties TSA officers face — Holder said the agency's workers have "too often been unappreciated, overlooked or even discounted" — but said Hernandez took pride in his work.
"We are often faced with situations that can easily discourage us from accomplishing our duties, and we find ourselves leaning on each other for guidance and strength," said Lisandro Jimenez, a TSA supervisory officer at LAX. "He was that person that could easily improve your mood with a simple smile."
Hernandez was killed and three others — including two TSA agents — were wounded when a gunman opened fire in Terminal 3 at LAX. The suspected gunman, 23-year-old Paul Anthony Ciancia, was wounded in a gun battle with airport police; he was listed in fair condition.
Ciancia has been charged with murder in Hernandez's death, along with the commission of violence at an airport.
Holder vowed that he would "not rest until justice has been done."
"We will do everything in our power to ensure that those responsible for this senseless act can and will be held accountable to the fullest extent of the law," the attorney general said.
Acting Secretary of Homeland Security Rand Beers called on his department and the TSA to become "an even more capable protector of our nation's security." Hernandez, he said, died "way too early for simply doing his job."
Beers also presented a folded American flag to Hernandez's wife, who sat with her two children in the front row. Three rows back sat the two TSA agents wounded in the attack — one walked with a cane, the other with his arm in a sling.
Near the arena's entrance, a massive flag fluttered between two fire truck ladders, prompting many people to stop and snap pictures before the ceremony.
Renee Kinner, 59, choked up as she explained why she was at the memorial. She had worked for the TSA for 10 years at John Wayne Airport, she said, and her son works for the agency at LAX. He was there the day the shooting occurred, stationed at a nearby terminal.
"It upset me," Kinner said, pausing to regain her composure. "I felt the need to be here. I'm still a TSA person."
re. "I felt the need to be here. I'm still a TSA person."Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun