Mistakes were made: Air marshals’ first casualty
December 7th has another reason for being “a day which will live in infamy”. It was Pearl Harbor in 1941, but History will remember this day in 2005 as the first time air marshals shot and killed a passenger.
It began when Rigoberto Alpizar boarded flight 924 at Miami International Airport. He was travelling back to his home of Orlando with his wife, Anne. Minutes before take-off, he began to rush down the aisle, uttering threatening sentences, which included that he had a bomb. Two sky marshals confronted him, and Alpizar then ran toward the jet way toward the concourse. The marshals pursued, and Anne Alpizar also followed, yelling “my husband, my husband”. The marshals ordered Rigoberto to hit the ground, who refused, reaching into his carry-on bag. The marshals fired four or five shots, and Alpizar was killed.
After the shooting incident, all passengers were ordered to place their hands on their head. They were then asked, with hands still on their heads, to march out of the plane like prisoners. Dogs sniffed all of them for explosives while squad cars continued to surround the plane.
The event is truly a tragedy, made even more tragic by the information that was revealed afterward.
Passenger Mary Gardner told a local Miami TV station that Anne Alpizar had said that her husband was “bioplar, and had not taken his medication”. It was also discovered that Alpizar’s carry-on bag contained no bomb. All the luggage was inspected and also had no explosive devices.
Unfortunately, even though the marshals “did their duty”, they might have over did it. Neighbors of the couple in Orlando have stated that they were on a vacation in Quito, Peru, but they were also working with a church group. They have said that his behavior was “completely uncharacteristic of him”. Alpizar was an American citizen who passed through customs without incident, and had very little motive for hijacking an airplane.
The consequences of this incident will no doubt resonate in the minds of all travelers. Homeland Security chief Brian Doyle has said that the air marshals acted “consistent with their training”. Air marshals have the same rules are the same as a law-enforcement officer, and “if they were telling the guy not to reach into his bag, as soon as they guy reached into his bag, that’s a situation that necessitates the use of deadly force.”
James Bauer, a special agent in charge of air marshals in Miami, has stated that this was an “isolated incident”, and that the actions of Alpizar were not a part of a greater terrorist scheme. When asked about the questionable protocols of the air marshal shooting, he only commented: “all of that will be parsed out”.
There will be undoubtedly a trial to see if these marshals did the right thing, and one can’t help but wonder what will happen if they are found guilty. After all, it appears that Alpizar’s only crime was not taking his medication, but the consequences of that action truly does not fit his error. During this due process, the obvious question will be raised: “are we hiring inferior air marshals?”
Before September 11, 2001, the United states had only 33 air marshals. The program was expanded after the 9/11 attacks, and their present number remains classified. The official Air Marshals site says that over 200,000 applied, and one can’t help but wonder if the shooters were the best of the applicants. We should also wonder why we do not hear of cases in which air marshals stop actual terrorist threats.