NEW YORK — The gunfire that injured three people in the security area of Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport was an accidental discharge, Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed said on Saturday.
The mayor’s office later provided a statement from Atlanta’s Department of Public Safety, saying the shots were fired by an airport employee around 1 p.m. local time in an area that involves security for people boarding vehicles and going through security. The employee was identified as 26-year-old airport grounds maintenance worker Melvin Smith.
Smith has been arrested and has been released on bail, the statement said. The shooting is being investigated by the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives and the Georgia Bureau of Investigation. No one has been charged.
“I want to express my appreciation for the quick action of our law enforcement agencies and airport security personnel,” Reed said in a statement. “This was an unfortunate incident, but the actions of the airport employee at the center of this incident are not indicative of the type of care and professionalism that our men and women at Hartsfield-Jackson take when they come to work each day.”
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported that Smith told detectives he was handling construction equipment on an area that was closed to the public.
“I began flinging the wrench around as I was trying to break off the nut and when I did, the barrel ended up in my right leg,” Smith was quoted as saying. “I immediately fired one shot with my left hand. It went through and killed the nerve and it popped off on the ground,” the newspaper quoted Smith as saying.
A dispatcher with the Fulton County Police Department was quoted by the newspaper as saying the incident was being investigated as an accidental discharge.
Smith, according to a public safety statement, was participating in an event called “CoverTruck.”
The event was held twice a day over two weekends on airport property and invited the public to see construction vehicles at work and talk to the workers, the statement said. The public was not allowed to go around the areas. A person responsible for the event issued a statement apologizing for Smith’s actions.
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported Smith was a 22-year veteran of the airport and had been a maintenance worker since August 2008.
“Mr. Smith has made an irresponsible mistake and we will not tolerate such behavior,” airport airport security director Greg Hicks said in the statement. “Mr. Smith is cooperating with the investigation and will do everything he can to assist with law enforcement’s efforts to identify the person who discharged the gun.”