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Police Weren’t ‘Minutes’ Behind Los Angeles Shooting Suspect

Tuesday brings word that some heartbreaking headlines from Monday apparently weren't correct. We'll try to set things straight.

Monday, reports such as these about Friday's shooting at Los Angeles International Airport were getting lots of attention:

-- "LAPD missed intercepting alleged shooter by minutes." (Los Angeles Times)

-- " 'A matter of minutes:' Police checked on LAX suspect after he left for the airport." (CNN.com)

-- "Police Came Within 45 Minutes of Potentially Stopping the LAX Shooting Before It Began." (Slate)

News outlets based their dramatic headlines and stories on comments made Sunday by Rep. Michael McCaul, R-Texas, who chairs the House Homeland Security Committee. He said on CNN's State of the Union that he had been told Los Angeles police were contacted Friday by police in New Jersey. The New Jersey police, McCaul said, informed the California authorities that Paul Ciancia's family was worried he might commit suicide.

Police went to Ciancia's residence in Sun Valley, Calif., and "missed him by literally, probably 45 minutes," McCaul said.

Ciancia is the 23-year-old man who authorities say opened fire at the airport -- killing TSA agent Gerardo Hermandez and injuring several other people. Seriously wounded after an exchange of gunfire with airport police, Ciancia remains hospitalized.

But here's what now seems to be a more accurate timeline, based on what Los Angeles Police Department Commander Andy Smith tells NPR's Kirk Siegler and documents made public by authorities investigating the shooting. It indicates that police were more likely 2 hours or more behind Ciancia:

-- Early Friday morning: Ciancia reportedly asks a roommate to take him to the airport. They lived about 30 miles from the airport. Given that distance and the time it can take to drive anywhere in Los Angeles, it seems likely that Ciancia would have asked for the ride before or around 8 a.m. local time and left soon after.

-- 9:20 a.m. in Los Angeles: The shooting begins.

-- 10:06 a.m. in Los Angeles: After a call from a family member concerned about Ciancia's mental state (not about the shooting, which hadn't yet become national news), LAPD officers are dispatched to his residence. That's 46 minutes after the attack began and perhaps 2 hours after Ciancia is thought to have left for the airport.

-- 10:12 a.m. in Los Angeles: Officers are at Ciancia's residence. They're reportedly told by another roommate that he's not there.

-- 10:30 a.m. in Los Angeles (1:30 p.m. on the East Coast): Ciancia's father calls the local police department in Pennsville, N.J., saying that he's concerned about his son because of suicidal-sounding text message he reportedly sent. Pennsville police call the Los Angeles police. Officers are again dispatched to Ciancia's residence in Sun Valley. By then, it's likely Ciancia had been gone from the home for more than 2 hours.

As we've written many times when news is breaking, initial reports -- and even stories a day or two later -- often include include information that later turns out to have been inaccurate. We'll continue trying to sort through things.

Our colleagues at Southern California Public Radio are also following the story. They've collected their coverage here.

Copyright 2013 NPR. To see more, visit www.npr.org.

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