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Suspect in custody in Atlanta airport incident

Michael Lasseter, the man accused of breaching security at the world's busiest airport because he didn't want to miss a plane to a college football game.  

ATLANTA, Georgia (CNN) -- Authorities have in custody a man accused of breaching security at Atlanta Hartsfield International Airport, causing it to shut down for hours while delaying flights across the nation.

Maj. M. Lee Brooks with airport police identified the suspect as Michael Lasseter, 32, of Gainesville, Georgia. The FBI is interviewing him and authorities are awaiting word on what federal charges will be pursued.

According to authorities, Lasseter said he was running late for his flight to Memphis, on his way to Saturday's football game between Georgia and the University of Mississippi.

Brooks said the U.S. Attorney's office is "pursuing every charge available."

According to Brooks, Lasseter said he had already passed through security and gone to the gate for his flight when he suddenly realized he had left a camera bag somewhere in the airport. He said he returned to the main terminal to search for it.

As Lasseter prepared to return to his gate around 11:45 a.m. ET, Brook said, "He saw the line at the checkpoint and his flight was leaving 10 minutes later, so he didn't have time to wait in line. So he went back down the escalators he came from."

"His story is that, because he had already been through security, he didn't see the harm going back down the escalator," Brooks said.

People evacuate Hartsfield Atlanta International Aiport on Friday.
People evacuate Hartsfield Atlanta International Aiport on Friday.  

Peter Collins, an executive with International Total Services (ITS), the security firm for Hartsfield, said the man was first stopped by two ITS security guards when he tried to go down the up escalator. The man was told to go through the nearby main security checkpoint. He started to walk away, but spun around and sprinted past the two guards and ran down the up escalator.

Asked why the guards didn't physically stop him, Collins said, "They don't have the authority to touch any passengers. They can only sound an alert."

Authorities immediately went to a heightened state of alert , but police, national guard and other airport authorities could not find the man.

DeCosta said all planes that were at the gates at the time of the security breach were emptied of passengers and moved away from the gates. The entire airport -- the world's busiest -- was evacuated.

"Every aircraft that was at the gate was evacuated -- every single one of them," he said.

The airport was closed for three hours.

As a result, an estimated 10,000 would-be travelers and employees jammed walkways in front of the terminals, and traffic was in gridlock as nearby streets were closed.

Among those delayed by the incident was Sen. Max Cleland, D.-Georgia, who was scheduled to fly to Savannah, Georgia, for a press conference on the airport security overhaul at 4 p.m. ET.

"It's impossible to not see the irony, the fact that Senator Cleland was caught in the middle of a security breach the day that he spoke from the floor about the critical need to upgrade security at our nation's airports," said Patricia Murphy, the senator's spokeswoman.

DeCosta acknowledged that had the breach occurred before September 11, the same measures taken Friday would not have occurred.

"Security is amplified," he said. "Any breaches in security will be dealt with in a consistent way."

Officials said it could be Saturday before the airport is running at full capacity.


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