False reports of gunfire at Los Angeles International Airport Sunday night sent panicked passengers running from terminals and onto the tarmac. Wowlebrity and RuPaul’s Drag Race season 4 winner Sharon Needles was there, and experienced first-hand the chaos that ensued. “People were running the wrong way on escalators. It was madness,” she says. Read her full account below.
James St. James: So you were part of that whole melee that happened at LAX this weekend.
Sharon Needles: It was one of the most bizarre things I’ve ever gone through. I was in terminal 5, in the Sky Priority Line, getting the last flight out to the east coast from LAX and, you know, that line at that hour is the quietest time at the airport. So I’m in the ticketing line and I’m playing my video game on my phone and next thing we know we see a wall of maybe a hundred people in the terminal just running straight for me and they are just screaming “Run! Run! Run! Shooter! Shooter!” It just went from instant, like, “flazeda” to bizarre “instant panic” mode. Zero to 60 in no time.
You were literally running for you life…
Yes, it happened instantly because when it was all said and done, it’s like polaroids to me, it was just so fast. (My boyfriend) Chad looked at me and was like “Run!” – so by the time we got out to the drop-off zone it was even more hundreds of people just running the opposite way of traffic.
Where was everyone running to?
Well apparently it was a panic trickle-down from terminal 7. It started in terminal 7, that went to 6, that went to 5 and they were just families and elderly people running at full speed. We get out and we just start running and running and running and running and we look back and your mind just starts playing tricks on you. You instantly think the person behind you running at you, is the shooter. It was literally like a horror movie. We ran all the way to terminal 3 and you could just see that people were trampled…
Were people hurt?
Oh yeah, the press said “Passengers were spooked but no one was injured…” I mean, they made it sound as if it was nothing when actually it involved thousands of passengers and instant mass hysteria. There were women crying who lost their children, who had ran faster than them and lost their kids.
It was like a movie. We couldn’t look anything up on our phones. Security wasn’t telling us anything. Employees, security, passengers, everyone was running the opposite way. And then security had stopped traffic from coming into the airport. So then we hear another group of people screaming “No no no! Run run run!”. People were running the wrong way on escalators. It was madness. So we finally got to terminal 1, and if you’ve been to terminal 1, you know how far that really is and I had dropped my bag between terminal 4 and terminal 3 and my old man was like “Its not worth it, its not worth it” and I was like “There’s thousands of dollars of drag in there”. So I went back and got them [Laughs], come hell or high water I’m getting those costumes back.
Do you think a lot of people just dropped their bags?
Yeah, there was bags littered everywhere, people who had those bags that you put your credit card on, just left them and ran. So then the police were saying that no one could get in or out, so this business man by me says “I don’t know you (his name was Bill), and you don’t know me, but I’m not sticking around to see what happens when everyone is stuck in this airport with no phone service.” and I was like “I’m following you”. So we zig-zagged like Frogger through a mile of deadlocked cars until we got to the LAX sign, got through the cars, telling everyone in the cars what was going on because they were trapped. So finally we got out of there, we went to the first hotel I could find, threw my credit card down and I said “Do you think this is gonna get full?” and they were saying we are already getting calls that people are coming, leaving their cars, etc. So then I got to the bar because after that I needed a drink. At the bar everyone was trading stories. One guy told me he was leaving his plane on the tarmac and when the door opened people were just flying in trying to take cover. So this pandemonium, which I thought was just before security, was after security too.
And then it turns out it was absolutely nothing. The same thing happened at JFK recently… Do you think its just because people are just so tense… that when somebody puts a bag down too loudly, people just freak out?
We just didn’t know if it was a prank or not. It was just tears, scraped knees, and lost children, just pure pandemonium. When we were at the bar watching the news we saw “LAX passengers spooked by bang, also man in Zorro costume..” they were making light of it. And I don’t make mountains out of mole hills but this was really, really wild. To even come back to LAX the next day it was like…
… Like post traumatic stress?
It really was. It just goes to show how mass hysteria and the domino effect of that can work. I mean I have a pretty good head on my shoulders and I’m not really fearful of anything, as a good drag queen should be, but hundreds of people of running at you screaming “Theres a gun, theres a shooter!” how quickly can escalate.
And how easy you can fall into that mindset.
The only press that took it seriously was the LA local news. Every other outlet was just like “Oh, this traffic is such a headache!”. They kept using the word “spooked” and i was just like no, words like “spooked” are meant for B horror films. It was just really scary to see kids lost, elderly people running, hysteria just doesn’t have any prejudice. It just affected everyone. There was no protocol either. On the loudspeaker we heard “LAX…” and we thought “Oh they are gonna tell us something” “Is a world class airport…”. There was just no protocol! Security was just like “RUN.” It was just pure pandemonium that involved so many people. It was very surreal. But I will say, certain things like this, like 9/11 or Hurricane Katrina, that even when people didn’t know what was going on, people were immediately there to help each other. You saw people that normally wouldn’t have conversations together, talking.
Well, we’re happy you are safe!