Crime & Justice

LAX shooting: Family, friends rally behind Calabasas high school teacher hurt in attack

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There’s a cheerful poster waiting for Brian Ludmer at the top of the stairwell leading to the front door of his apartment. And all around his living room are colorful hand-made banners from his students encouraging him to “stay strong” and “keep smiling.”

That’s not hard for the theater teacher from Calabasas High School. He says he feels lucky.

“It was a random shot from 25 yards away,” Ludmer says. “It could very easily have been much, much, worse.”

RELATED: LAX shooting: Paul Ciancia charged with first-degree murder in slaying of TSA officer

Ludmer, 29, was shot once in the right leg during the shooting at Los Angeles International Airport on Nov. 1. A gunman opened fire in Terminal Three around 9:20 a.m., targeting Transportation Security Administration officers, according to federal authorities. One TSA officer was killed, two TSA workers and Brian Ludmer were shot.

Authorities have charged Paul Ciancia with murder and other charges related to the shooting. He is scheduled to be back in federal court Wednesday.

“Much of it is a blurred panic,” Lumder says about the shooting. “Sort of a rushed memory.”

RELATED: KPCC's coverage of the shooting at LAX

The bullet left a baseball-sized hole in his right leg, shattering the shinbone and fibula. He’s had three surgeries to rebuild the bone. They also took muscle from the back of his calf to replace the muscle torn off in the shin area.

Ludmer gets around on crutches and eventually should be able to walk again. But, right now, just standing is painful. So he spends a lot time on the couch with two pillows propped under his foot.

“It’s a healthy perspective in some ways to have to struggle and understand,” he says. “Whatsome people deal with their entire lives in terms of immobility.”

He was headed home to Chicago for the weekend to attend the wedding of an old high school friend. He packed the usual, making the weekend getaway plenty of times. But that Friday, as he waited in line for the metal detectors on the second level of Terminal Three, gunshots echoed through the airport.

“Everybody just sort of dropped,” Ludmer remembers. “It was pretty unmistakable. I mean it was really, really loud.”

There was a pause in the sounds. But then they started again, in an inconsistent pattern. So everyone on floor jumped up and started elbowing their way through the metal detectors. Some scattered into the hallways, crammed into restrooms, ran down jetways and even onto idle planes.

But Ludmer continued running down the terminal, further than anyone had gotten, in a confused jog, a sort of wandering hustle, asking: "Where should I go?"

That's when the gunman caught up with him.

“I was about halfway down the terminal and it was only me, that I recall, and two TSA agents at that point,” he says. “Everybody else had broken off.”

Then without warning, his legs buckled, his body collapsed.

“I didn’t hear the shot,” Ludmer says. “I just felt it, it just took me off my feet.”

It didn’t hurt. It didn’t burn, he says. It just felt like a massive impact, like someone swung a bat at his leg. He tried to stand back up but it was no use because his leg and foot hung limp below the gaping wound.

Ludmer turned his body to see where the bullet came from and that’s when, for a second, his eyes took a snapshot of what he assumes is the shooter. He says assumes because he doesn’t remember seeing a gun in the man’s hands. The teacher can only describe a stern-faced man wearing a dark windbreaker standing alone in the narrow part of the hallway staring back at him.

Ludmer says he winced, pushing his face into the airport carpet, bracing for second bullet.  

“I remember that pattern on the carpet and just thinking: 'I’m about to get shot again,'” he says. “Because why wouldn’t he. He shot me once. I had no idea that his intention was to kill just TSA agents at the time.”

The second shot never came. On hands and knees, he crawled into a room inside a shop nearby.

Inside the room, he found a child’s sweater and tied it above the wound on his leg to slow the bleeding. Then he waited for the gunshots to stop.

That’s when the rush of pain finally kicked in, Ludmer says. He worried he’d pass out from blood loss before anyone would find him hiding in the small closet. So after hearing male voices shouting in the airport, he crawled out to peek behind the store register.

Ludmer describes it as one of the most excruciating crawls he’s ever made. His deformed leg was preventing him from moving. He had no muscle to lift it. So he grabbed his right ankle and folded over his left thigh to drag himself out.

“One of the things I remember very vividly is the feeling of loose bone with my thumb,” he says. “Feeling it with my right thumb, as I moved it.”

Two Los Angeles Airport police officers ran toward him, rifles drawn. First, they pat him down and eventually ran him out of the terminal in a wheel chair to paramedics.

“I’ve never been that scared in my life,” Ludmer says. “The whole recollection of it is just pure panic and being terrified.”

Inside the ambulance – and on the verge of tears – he dialed his mom in Chicago. She’s a nurse and begun to immediately ask all kinds of questions about emergency treatment for his leg. He passed the phone to a police officer inside the ambulance. Then, he called the high school he works at. Ludmer shrugs thinking about why the second call he made was to his place of work.

“I don’t know,” he says. “I just thought I should let someone in L.A. know, you know, what’s happening.”

Maybe it was for support, he says. His three brothers and kid sister are spread out all over the country. One’s in Connecticut; his parents are in Chicago. Though they flew to Los Angeles as soon as they could, it was the Calabasas High School principal and a couple of fellow teachers he first saw when he awoke after the first surgery.

“That was a huge support and a huge relief to see somebody familiar,” Ludmer says.

Now, he’s recovering at home and some of those same people have come to visit. Friends drop by to play Trivial Pursuit and Scrabble. Ludmer is a board-game type of guy. The game boxes are stacked under his coffee table. The visitors also leave an assortment of magazines and books to him pass the hours healing on the couch. And he’s got a serious stash of “get well” candy baskets.

Next to the couch is a memory book, decorated in baby blue and yellow, made by an old roommate. Its title: “My first gunshot wound.” The binder starts with pictures of Ludmer smiling, recovering in the hospital. There are cards from friends and letters from the President and Vice President wishing him a speedy recovery. Inside the memory book are pages and pages of news articles about the shooting.

Ludmer has spoken to investigators on several occasions and is willing to testify if called upon. But he says he’s not angry with the alleged gunman.

“Whatever he has, must be a disease of some kind,” Ludmer says. “These actions are just a manifestation or an outcome of whatever state he is in.”

The teacher says he is mad with the system. Ludmer wishes there was a safety net to catch people like the alleged shooter, whom he believes must be struggling with grave anger issues or mental illness.

The teacher initially pursued a career in the Navy like his father, and even received an ROTC college scholarship. Now, he has strong opinions about firearms. His dad collects historic weaponry and he’s used them before in the Boy Scouts, ROTC, and with the Navy.

“I just feel very strongly that they don’t have a place in private ownership, especially this sort of pseudo-military assault type weapons like the one I was shot with,” Ludmer says.

On one of his living room walls, hangs a “get well” poster made by a Las Virgenes school district music teacher. Her mother was killed two years ago in Tucson when a gunman opened fire at a political rally, the one in which former Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords was shot in the head.

“It’s this really unfortunate bond we have now,” Ludmer says.

Full interview: Shooting victim Brian Ludmer on the LAX attack