Who Panicked … Rigoberto Alpizar or the air marshals?

It’s frustrating trying to figure out what happened in the Miami airport this Wednesday. For the first time in U.S. history, a passenger was gunned down on the jetway after he abruptly left the plane just before takeoff.

At first it seemed tragically clear cut. He had Bipolar disorder, was off his meds, and he said he had a bomb. He apparently refused to comply when the air marshals ordered him to the ground. He then reached into his backpack and the air marshals had no other option than to shoot.

Questions like couldn’t they have just wounded him or physically subdued him or used a taser gun have been fairly well answered as too risky, not safe enough or not decisive enough. The marshals did what they were trained to do.

So why isn’t that the end of the story? In today’s USA Today, it was reported that after having initially taken his seat on the plane next to his wife, he suddenly jumped up and ran down the aisle flailing his arms. A flight attendant reportedly told him he couldn’t get off the plane – to which he said, “I have a bomb.” But also on today’s AP wire, two passengers close to the exchange between him and the flight attendant said emphatically they never heard the word bomb.

Did someone misunderstand what he was saying? His wife was running up the aisle saying he’s Bipolar and off his meds, although one passenger reported that the wife was speaking Spanish, saying, “He’s sick. He has a problem.”

Why did he feel he had to get off the plane? The most common explanation would be that he was having a panic attack – very common in individuals with Bipolar disorder.

Unfortunately, I have not been able to find any information from the wife about what he was saying. There are reports today that in the airport, before boarding the plane, he seemed agitated and was singing “Go Down Moses” as his wife tried to calm him. It was also reported by a passenger near him on the plane that he seemed very restless and suddenly said he had to get off.

Bipolar disorder, when not controlled, can lead to a feeling of agitation that makes it very difficult to sit still. It can also produce delusional ideas or hallucinations that direct a person to flee.

Adding to the tragedy and confusion are several reports about what a nice, gentle person he was. He was well liked at work and in his Orlando neighborhood. He and his wife had been married over 18 years and had just returned from a missionary trip to Ecuador where Mr. Alpizar had served as a translator for a group of dentists and ophthalmologists offering their services to poor communities.

Assuming he did say he had a bomb – what would have been his motivation? Was he using that as a threat so they would let him off the plane? We obviously need more information. But mostly, we can’t just say – “He was Bipolar and that explains his crazy behavior.”

Why was he allowed to board the plane in the first place? Why didn’t his wife talk to someone and try to get help for him instead of boarding the plane? Hopefully, we’ll get some answers soon. I’m eager to hear your opinions on this story.

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One Response to “Who Panicked … Rigoberto Alpizar or the air marshals?”

  • rocki says:

    If any of the reports of his odd behavior are true, then airport security did what they had to at the time. However, most likely intervention should have occurred long before he got on the plane. Really, if you saw someone singing “Go Down Moses” in an airport wouldn’t you at least mention it to someone? This to me is the crucial point. Because once he was on the plane, security was left with few options. The mental illnes factor is unfortunate, but would not impact decisions at this level, ie, he says he has a bomb.

    The airport is a scary place now.