Nna Alpha Onuoha, 29, was arrested Tuesday night at a Riverside church after a daylong search by multiple federal and local agencies. He allegedly made a series of threats that began when he resigned that day from the Transportation Security Administration and later turned in a package.
Prior to his resignation, Onuoha had been suspended after he chastised a teenage girl in June about her attire.
Onuoha made an initial appearance Wednesday at U.S. District Court in Los Angeles, but at the request of his deputy federal public defender, the detention hearing was continued to Monday.
He remains in custody. If convicted of the federal charges, Onuoha faces up to 15 years in prison.
According to an affidavit in the case, Onuoha resigned about 9 a.m. Tuesday. About four hours later, he returned to TSA headquarters at LAX and left a sealed express mail envelope addressed to a TSA manager.
He then allegedly called the TSA checkpoint at Terminal 3 a few minutes later. According to an affidavit, he cautioned that the manager should open the "package."
During the same call he advised "that LAX should be evacuated immediately starting with Terminal 2" and then in a second call indicated Terminals 2, 3 and 6 "needed to be evacuated immediately and the TSA was running out of time."
He then allegedly called LAX police and said "they should evacuate the entire airport."
Onuoah, an employee since 2006, had been suspended from July 21 to July 27 for telling the 15-year-old girl to "cover up," according to the court filing.
During one of the calls to the TSA, a screener asked the Nigerian-born Onuoha, who has a thick accent, to repeat his statement. Onuoha told the screener "that he would be watching to see if TSA was evacuating the terminals as directed," according to the affidavit by FBI Special Agent David Gates.
Gates wrote the screener believed Onuoha was conveying "a bomb threat or another threat to violence to the airport."
"The TSA manger told me he believed the most credible scenario was an "active shooter" situation at the airport," Gates wrote.
At Onuoha's home in Inglewood, which was empty, agents found a handwritten message in the closet: "09/11/2013 THERE WILL BE FIRE FEAR! FEAR! FEAR!," Gates wrote.
When Onuoha was eventually arrested near midnight Tuesday at the Harvest Christian Fellowship Church in Riverside, he waived his Miranda rights and said this meant he intended to start "preaching in the streets."
He denied his statements were intended as threats and he "had no intent to engage in any violent conduct."
Onuoha had been living in Inglewood at a home for U.S. Veterans and served for eight years as an infantryman in the National Guard.
U.S. Army records show Onuoha was deployed to Kosovo from 2005 to 2006 — where he earned the rank of specialist and a handful of medals. He participated in the U.S. Vets initiative in Los Angeles, which offers services to service members adjusting to civilian life.
Authorities took Onuoha's threats seriously enough Tuesday that they launched a multi-agency search and considered releasing Onuoha's name to the public before he was apprehended, sources told The Times.
However, as of early Wednesday, authorities said they had not yet found any weapons or bomb-making materials.
Law enforcement sources said he “fully cooperated” after being stopped near the church, where a security guard noticed him sleeping in a van.
The church security guard asked him to leave about 11 p.m., which he did, only to come back, Riverside Police Lt. Guy Toussaint said.
When Onuoha returned, the guard wrote down the New York license plate of the van and called Riverside police, who rushed to the church about 11:40 p.m.
The Joint Terrorism Task force — including FBI agents who had been tracking Onuoha — also headed to the location. Once there, a Riverside police SWAT team approached the parking lot, Toussaint said.
"As they were approaching, he drove off. We think he was just leaving and didn't see the SWAT officers coming," Toussaint said. "They made a high-risk felony stop and he fully cooperated."
A subsequent search recovered several packages and a large red cross near the church, but no weapons or explosives. A similar cross appeared in photos that were on a website where several rambling letters signed by Onuoha include references to 9/11 and the "end of the world."
He also ranted about a June incident that sources said led to Onuoha's TSA suspension when he chastised a teenage girl about her attire.
Another 17-page letter harshly criticized the United States, stating "America is nothing but a great Harlot that corrupts the innocent." The letter, dated Aug. 25, promised to deliver a "real message" on Wednesday, the 12th anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks.