The Transportation Security Administration officer who was nearly cut by a machete-wielding man at the Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport Friday says the sheriff's officer who shot the assailant "is my hero."
"She saved my life," TSA Officer Carol Richel, 56, told reporters Saturday. "The man was within inches of whacking me with a machete."
Richard White, 63, was shot three times by the officer, identified as Jefferson Parish sheriff's Lt. Heather Slyve, after he began spraying people with wasp spray and swinging a machete at a security checkpoint at Concourse B. He died at a hospital on Saturday, the sheriff's office said.
Earlier Saturday, officials released new details about the attack, including that they believed White was mentally ill. He brought six Molotov cocktails, a barbecue lighter and smoke bombs into the airport, they said. White dropped the bag holding the bombs before the attack, officials said.
White allegedly sprayed a female TSA officer with a can of wasp spray after the officer challenged him in the security line on Friday. He then pulled a machete out of his pants and began swinging it and sprayed a second TSA officer, Jefferson Parish Sheriff Newell Normand said.
Richel shouted at some bystanders to take cover and told others to run, and the officer fired three times at White as he chased Richel towards the exit to the concourse, Normand said.
Investigators believe the first shot struck Richel in the right arm and then hit White. Two more shots were fired which also struck White, Normand said. He was shot in the face, the chest and the thigh.
Normand said White, still armed with the machete, was within three or four feet from Richel when the officer opened fire. "The officer began to fire because he was gaining on her very quickly," he told reporters Saturday.
After the chaos was over, officials found the bag containing the firebombs in the concourse. A bomb squad found smoke bombs inside his car as well, along with tanks of acetylene, Freon and oxygen, Normand said. "We don't know at this time what the intended purpose of those being in the trunk of the car actually are," he said.
"His family has been very cooperative," Normand said. "We have been able to determine that there is a mental illness component that is present."
It's unclear what triggered the attack. White, a Jehovah's Witness, had refused certain types of medical care, the sheriff said.
New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu praised the TSA and law enforcement for how they handled the situation.
"This was an unexpected attack by a clearly troubled and disturbed individual," he said. "Obviously, we are going to learn from this incident."