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Warrants issued for man after gun goes off at Atlanta airport

The incident happened around 1:30 p.m. Saturday at the security screening area. Airport officials gave the all-clear about an hour and a half later.

Warrants have been issued for a man who fled after a gun went off during a search of his luggage at Hartsfield–Jackson Atlanta International Airport, causing panicked travelers to flee and briefly halting departures Saturday afternoon, officials said.

About 1:30 p.m., a transportation security officer was checking a passenger's bag after the X-ray machine identified a prohibited item, the Transportation Security Administration said.

The officer told the passenger not to touch the bag, but "as he opened the compartment containing the prohibited item, the passenger lunged into the bag and grabbed a firearm, at which point it discharged," the TSA said in a written statement.

The passenger ran out of the security line and an airport exit with the gun, said Robert Spinden, the TSA's federal security director for Georgia.

The airport tweeted that there was not an active shooter and that a firearm had gone off accidentally.

Airport officials gave the all-clear at 2:57 p.m. and said passenger screenings and flights were underway again.

At a news conference Saturday evening, authorities identified Kenny Wells, 42, as the man whose gun discharged.

Warrants have been issued for Wells on charges of possession of a firearm by a convicted felon, discharging a firearm, carrying a concealed weapon at a commercial airport and reckless conduct, said the airport police commander, Maj. Reginald Norman.

Cellphone video captured frightened travelers lying on the ground. Other video showed passengers getting off planes and waiting on the tarmac and around the terminals, NBC affiliate WXIA of Atlanta reported.

The airport said that there was no danger to passengers or employees and that the incident is being investigated.

At least three people were reported to have been injured, two of them with shortness of breath and a third who fell in an area separate from the security checkpoint. None of the injuries were thought to be life-threatening, and it was unclear whether they were directly tied to the scare, officials said. No one was injured in the discharge.

The Federal Aviation Administration halted departures. The airport said normal operations are beginning to resume.

The TSA said the incident should remind passengers of "the importance of checking personal belongings for dangerous items before leaving for the airport."

TSA officers have come across more than 450 firearms at checkpoints in the Atlanta airport this year, the agency said.

"Firearms, particularly loaded firearms, introduce an unnecessary risk at checkpoints, have no place in the passenger cabin of an airplane, and represent a very costly mistake for the passengers who attempt to board a flight with them," the TSA said.

The agency said it assesses civil penalties when travelers take firearms to airport checkpoints. The penalties vary based on any previous offenses and whether the firearms are loaded.