Mentally unstable man shot dead by air marshals
Julian Borger in Washington and Sam Jones
Thursday December 8, 2005
An investigation was under way last night into the
fatal shooting of a mentally unstable passenger by
federal air marshals at Miami airport. Officials said
the passenger, a 44-year-old American man, Rigoberto
Alpizar, had claimed he had a bomb in his hand luggage
and was asked to leave the plane, an American Airlines
flight to Orlando, while it was still at the gate.
James Bauer, a spokesman for the Federal Air Marshal
Service, said: "He was holding a backpack and uttered
a threat that he had a bomb." Mr Bauer said Mr Alpizar
had "attempted to avoid" the marshals and "they fired
shots with the result that he is deceased".
Other reports quoted unnamed officials as claiming
that Mr Alpizar had refused to drop his bag on the
jetway leading to the terminal and advanced
"aggressively" towards the marshals while reaching
into the bag, government officials said.
Witnesses said they heard at least three shots, and Mr
Alpizar was declared dead before reaching hospital.
Police took three bags from the plane and blew them up
on the airport tarmac, but no explosives were found.
Mr Bauer said: "There is no reason to believe there is
any nexus to terrorism" and called the incident an
It is the first time US air marshals have opened fire
on a passenger since the programme of placing guards
on commercial airliners was expanded after the
September 11 attacks.
Official sources said Mr Alpizar arrived in Miami from
Ecuador after an argument with his wife on the flight
to the US. After passing through US customs, he
boarded the flight to Orlando and then began making
An eyewitness told a local television station that the
man's wife had warned he was mentally ill. "He was
frantic, his arms flailing in the air," the passenger,
Mary Gardner, said. Ms Gardner said the man had run
down the aisle from the back of the plane, followed by
a woman shouting "My husband! My husband!" She also
heard the woman say her husband was bipolar and had
not taken his medication.
Dave Adams, a spokesman for the marshal service, said
marshals on board the plane had warned Mr Alpizar
several times to stop and drop the bag, before
"discharging their weapons". He said the investigation
would be carried out with the FBI, the transportation
security administration and the Miami police.
Although America has been using air marshals since
1968, it embarked on a major recruitment drive after
the events of September 11, when it was revealed that
only 33 were in service. President George Bush ordered
a dramatic rise in numbers, prompting 200,000
US air marshals are responsible for detecting,
deterring and defeating hostile acts that target US
air carriers, airports, passengers and crews. Recruits
are put through a seven-week basic law course and
taught marksmanship, defence tactics and first aid.
They then learn how to put their skills into practice
in the field. Because of the nature of the threats
they face, air marshals are trained to shoot more
accurately than any other US law enforcement agents
and use bullets that fragment inside the body to
minimise damage to plane and passengers.