A passenger on Flight 924 gives his account of the shooting and says
Rigoberto Alpizar never claimed to have a bomb
At least one passenger aboard American Airlines Flight 924 maintains the federal
air marshals were a little too quick on the draw when they shot and killed Rigoberto
Alpizar as he frantically attempted to run off the airplane shortly before take-off.
"I don't think they needed to use deadly force with the guy,"
says John McAlhany, a 44-year-old construction worker from Sebastian, Fla. "He
was getting off the plane." McAlhany also maintains that Alpizar never
mentioned having a bomb.
"I never heard the word 'bomb' on the plane," McAlhany told
TIME in a telephone interview. "I never heard the word bomb until the FBI
asked me did you hear the word bomb. That is ridiculous." Even the authorities
didn't come out and say bomb, McAlhany says. "They asked, 'Did you hear
anything about the b-word?'" he says. "That's what they called it."
When the incident began McAlhany was in seat 24C, in the middle of the plane.
"[Alpizar] was in the back," McAlhany says, "a few seats from
the back bathroom. He sat down." Then, McAlhany says, "I heard an
argument with his wife. He was saying 'I have to get off the plane.' She said,
Alpizar took off running down the aisle, with his wife close behind him. "She
was running behind him saying, 'He's sick. He's sick. He's ill. He's got a disorder,"
McAlhany recalls. "I don't know if she said bipolar disorder [as one witness
has alleged]. She was trying to explain to the marshals that he was ill. He
just wanted to get off the plane."
McAlhany described Alpizar as carrying a big backpack and wearing a fanny pack
in front. He says it would have been impossible for Alpizar to lie flat on the
floor of the plane, as marshals ordered him to do, with the fanny pack on. "You
can't get on the ground with a fanny pack," he says. "You have to
move it to the side."
By the time Alpizar made it to the front of the airplane, the crew had ordered
the rest of the passengers to get down between the seats. "I didn't see
him get shot," he says. "They kept telling me to get down. I heard
about five shots."
McAlhany says he tried to see what was happening just in case he needed to
take evasive action. "I wanted to make sure if anything was coming toward
me and they were killing passengers I would have a chance to break somebody's
neck," he says. "I was looking through the seats because I wanted
to see what was coming.
"I was on the phone with my brother. Somebody came down the aisle
and put a shotgun to the back of my head and said put your hands on the seat
in front of you. I got my cell phone karate chopped out of my hand. Then I realized
it was an official."
In the ensuing events, many of the passengers began crying in fear,
he recalls. "They were pointing the guns directly at us instead of pointing
them to the ground," he says "One little girl was crying. There was
a lady crying all the way to the hotel."
McAlhany said he saw Alpizar before the flight and is absolutely stunned by
what unfolded on the airplane. He says he saw Alpizar eating a sandwich in the
boarding area before getting on the plane. He looked normal at that time, McAlhany
says. He thinks the whole thing was a mistake: "I don't believe he should
be dead right now."