Pennsville tries to comprehend what happened

A police officer closes a road at the Los Angeles International Airport on Friday Nov. 1, 2013, after shots were reporter in Terminal 3, prompting authorities to evacuate the terminal and stop flights headed for the city from taking off from other airports. (AP Photo/Ringo H.W. Chiu)
A police officer closes a road at the Los Angeles International Airport on Friday Nov. 1, 2013, after shots were reporter in Terminal 3, prompting authorities to evacuate the terminal and stop flights headed for the city from taking off from other airports. (AP Photo/Ringo H.W. Chiu) (AP)
Posted: November 03, 2013

PENNSVILLE, N.J. - Early Friday afternoon, Paul Ciancia called a longtime friend, the town police chief. His son Paul, who was living in Los Angeles, had sent an ominous text message to his younger brother.

The message from 23-year-old Paul made the family feel "that he was going to do harm to himself," Police Chief Allen Cummings said Friday night.

Cummings said he went to the Ciancia house and then called the Los Angeles Police Department to do a well-being check on the younger Ciancia, who had been living in Los Angeles for about 18 months. His two roommates were home when police arrived, but Ciancia wasn't.

By then, a gunman had killed a Transportation Security Agency officer and wounded two other people at Los Angeles International Airport. But police hadn't released the shooter's name. Neither his father nor Cummings linked the shooting to Paul Ciancia.

Later, the Pennsville community was stunned to learn the young Ciancia was charged as the shooter.

"I was actually very shocked. We never put two and two together," said Cummings, who learned of the news through a phone call from the Associated Press.

Around that time, the elder Ciancia, who owns an auto-body shop in Pennsville, called Cummings.

"He said he saw [Paul] being named on TV as a suspect," Cummings said. "He was upset. He was distraught."

The younger Ciancia was shot at the scene. Cummings said the family did not know his condition. The AP identified the slain TSA agent as Gerardo I. Hernandez, 39.

Cummings said the last time the family saw Paul Ciancia was in the summer, when he returned for a wedding.

The chief was uncertain what Ciancia was doing in California. Cummings said family members told him there were no indications to them that Paul had mental-health problems. He said there was no indication to the family that he had weapons.

"They're upset. This is a shock to them. This is a shock to the community," he said.

Cummings said he was not certain whether the family would go to Los Angeles.

In Pennsville on Friday night, reporters camped out in front of the Ciancia home as FBI agents interviewed the family. He comes from a "super-super-nice family," said Orlando Pagan, 45, who said he has lived across the street for 10 years. "There were never any signs. . . . I'm shocked."

Pagan said Ciancia's mother, Susan, died after a long illness a few years ago. He said the elder Paul Ciancia was an associate member of the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 6 in town. The younger Ciancia has a sister in addition to his brother, Taylor, who lives in the family home.

The AP reported that Ciancia graduated in 2008 from Salesianum School, an all-boys Roman Catholic school in Wilmington.

"When he came home [from school], he waved to my family," Pagan said.

Pagan's son, Josh, 17, said Paul Ciancia worked in his father's repair shop after school.

"You wouldn't think someone like that would come out of a family like that," Josh Pagan said. "It would make more sense to me" if authorities accused the wrong person.

Another neighbor, Gary Hankins, said residents in the community are not close - literally. The houses are at the end of long driveways and are separated by woods.

"The community is not very tight-knit. The houses are hundreds of feet off the road," he said.

"I cannot fathom that happening. It's hard to comprehend someone in this small, quiet neighborhood - it sends chills up your spine," Hankins said. "You feel so bad for the family and the families that were affected."

Hankins said the elder Ciancia had been a businessman in the area for 20 to 25 years. "The father always took care of people" at his shop, he said.

Hankins said he didn't know the younger Ciancia was living in California. "The family has always been very nice to us," he said.

On Friday night, police blocked the entrance to the Ciancia house.


 


jlai@phillynews.com

856-779-3220

@elaijuh

Inquirer staff writer Edward Colimore contributed to this article.

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