The man didn’t stop.
“At first I thought it was a typical situation where a passenger was running late for his flight and didn’t want to wait to get screened,” recalled Hollywood Burbank Airport (BUR) Supervisory TSA Officer (STSO) Oscar Cruz, who noticed a man blow past the travel document checker without stopping.
It didn’t take Cruz long to reassess the situation.
“After observing some of the man’s behaviors and comments, I quickly realized it was something much different,” said Cruz. “I became concerned about the man’s intentions. He seemed determined to get into the sterile area.”
The man pushed through the walk through metal detector where a law enforcement officer (LEO) stationed on the checkpoint met him. The two began to scuffle. “It became apparent the LEO was not going to be able to subdue the man on his own,” said Cruz, who realized he could help and joined the struggle.
Standing nearby, Lead TSA Officer Diego Arellano and TSA Officers Terence Thomas and Oscar Quintero saw the incident unfold, trusted their instincts and chose to help.
“I hesitated at first because it looked like they (Cruz and the LEO) had him under control, but then I noticed he was overpowering them,” said Quintero. “I felt there was a chance the man could have gotten control of the LEO’s weapon.”
“My first thought was to contain the threat and not let the individual get past the screening area,” said Arellano. He felt a ‘band of brothers’ sense of obligation to his supervisor and wanted to help his teammates.
“I had to have my supervisor’s back,” said Arellano. “As soon as I saw Oscar get involved I thought, ‘what kind of lead would I be if I didn’t get involved.’”
Together, the officers prevented the man from entering the secure side of the checkpoint. Police backup arrived and he was taken into custody. The police report later confirmed Cruz’s original suspicion; the intruder didn’t have a boarding pass.
The officers trusted their instincts, acted decisively and prevented the man from entering the secure side of the airport without being properly screened.
When asked what he wanted others to know about why he chose to get involved, Quintero said, “A lot of people don’t know what they’d do in those situations. You should go with your instincts. Be ready for anything. You never know what could happen at any moment.”
“It’s important to always be aware,” agreed Cruz. “Don’t get complacent. Always be aware of your surroundings and stay vigilant.”
“If it prevented a threat from getting through the checkpoint, then that’s all that matters,” said Arellano. “It’s a team game. You should have your fellow officers’ backs no matter what.”
“The safety and security of our TSA employees is always our first priority,” said BUR Federal Security Director Anita Minaei. “No one is expected to place themselves in harm’s way under any circumstances. However, we want to acknowledge the above and beyond heroic bravery and quick action taken by these officers to assist our law enforcement partners and protect the security of the airport environment.”
By Karen Robicheaux, Strategic Communications & Public Affairs