Passenger Who Discharged Firearm at Airport During Thanksgiving Travel Season Sentenced to Federal Prison

Kenny Wells has been sentenced to ten years in prison for possessing a firearm after having been previously convicted of multiple felony offenses. Wells made headlines when he recklessly discharged a firearm at Hartsfield–Jackson Atlanta International Airport on the busy weekend before Thanksgiving in 2021.  Wells created enormous panic throughout the airport and forced a lockdown of the airport and surrounding area for over two hours after he discharged a firearm detected inside a bag he had carried into an airport security screening area.

“Wells is a multi-convicted felon who should not have been in possession of a firearm,” said U.S. Attorney Ryan K. Buchanan. “His behavior, particularly occurring at the world’s busiest airport, was especially dangerous. Fortunately, no one was injured when Wells discharged his firearm. He has now been held accountable for the consequences of his conduct.”

“Kenny Wells is a very violent individual who displays a total lack of concern for the lives of others.  This sentence represents the seriousness of his crime,” said ATF Special Agent in Charge Alicia Jones. “This sentence also ensures that Wells will not be able to hurt or terrorize anyone else for a very long time.”

“The Atlanta Police Department (APD) is committed to the safety of travelers and employees at Hartsfield–Jackson Atlanta International Airport. The egregious actions of Kenny Wells, a convicted felon, are disturbing.  He endangered the lives of multiple innocent travelers and airport personnel,” said Atlanta Police Chief Darin Schierbaum. “The conviction of Kenny Wells proves the effectiveness of our law enforcement partnerships, the dedication of the members of the various agencies that protect the world’s busiest airport, and our commitment to bringing criminals and repeat offenders to justice.”

According to U.S. Attorney Buchanan, the charges and other information presented in court: On November 20, 2021, Wells traveled to Hartsfield–Jackson Atlanta International Airport for a flight to New Orleans, Louisiana. This was the Saturday before Thanksgiving, so the airport was filled with passengers and traffic in the area was particularly high.

At approximately 1:30 p.m., Wells joined a security line to be screened by Transportation Security Administration (TSA) officers.  A TSA officer noticed something unusual inside a bag that Wells carried as the item went through an X-ray portal. The officer then moved the bag to a separate area for a closer inspection as Wells stood watching nearby. As the officer lifted a top layer of clothing inside the bag, Wells lunged forward and reached for a firearm concealed in the bag. Wells discharged the firearm as he grabbed the weapon and fled the area. People immediately panicked, with those nearby falling to the floor to protect themselves. Law enforcement officers responded by issuing an alert of a possible active shooter at the airport. Passengers in the domestic terminal area stampeded out of the airport, while passengers beyond the check-in kiosks were rushed to the concourse tunnels for protection.

The airport and surrounding area were placed in lockdown for more than two hours. This public safety precaution prevented passengers from boarding flights and pilots from allowing passengers to deplane from aircraft parked on the runways.

During the confusion, Wells escaped from the airport by blending in with the fleeing crowds. Surveillance cameras captured him at a nearby parking garage where he was seen discarding an object in a large metal trash can. Law enforcement officers later retrieved a firearm from the same trash can.  Because Wells left his boarding pass at the TSA checkpoint, law enforcement was able to identify him as the person who discharged the firearm, discarded the firearm in the parking garage trashcan, and caused widespread panic in the airport.

Kenny Wells, 44, of Atlanta, Georgia, has been sentenced to ten years in prison to be followed by three years of supervised release.  On January 4, 2023, Wells was convicted of the charge of possessing a firearm while being a convicted felon, in violation of Title 18, United States Code, Section 922(g)(1), after entering a guilty plea.

This case was investigated by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives and the Atlanta Police Department.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Paul R. Jones prosecuted the case.