Eyewitness: "I Never Heard the Word 'Bomb'"
A passenger on Flight 924 gives his account of the
shooting and says Rigoberto Alpizar never claimed to
have a bomb
By SIOBHAN MORRISSEY/MIAMI
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, 'Calm down.'"
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
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."