The little-known life of U.S. air marshals sprang into view yesterday when marshals fatally shot passenger Rigoberto Alpizar at Miami International Airport, USA Today reports. The Federal Air Marshals Service said he had claimed to have a bomb on a jet before running from the aircraft and up a jetway. the shooting was the first by an air marshal. Marshals are trained to take all potential threats seriously – and to respond to bomb threats with lethal force. “The system worked exactly as designed,” said Rep. John Mica (R-Fl.), chairman of the House aviation subcommittee. “Right now we are on edge about anyone having a bomb.”
Said one marshal, speaking anonymously: “If somebody yelled they had a bomb and reached for it, you shoot them – no ifs, ands or buts. That’s what you’re there to do.” In yesterday’s incident, Alpizar reached into his backpack and was shot. Investigators found no bomb. Alpizar’s wife said he was mentally ill and had not taken his medication. After the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, their presence increased dramatically from about 50 to “thousands,” says the U.S. Government Accountability Office. Air marshals carry automatic .357 SIG Sauer pistols with a 12-round cartridge. The bullets are hollow-point and expand on entering a body. “If you wait for someone to point a weapon before discharging your weapon, chances are you’re going to get hit,” said John Adler of the Federal Law Enforcement Officers Association, which represents 1,300 air marshals. Had marshals in Miami waited to see what Alpizar pulled out of his backpack, “they would have placed themselves and everyone else in imminent harm,” he said.