LEVON SARYAN ENCOUNTERS SHOOTER AT LAX
By Tom Vartabedian // November 6, 2013 in Featured, Headline, News
GREENFIELD, Wisc.-What started out as a routine flight home turned
into a nightmare for Dr. Levon A. Saryan.
The Armenian activist was returning home from Los Angeles International
Airport (LAX) over the weekend after visiting his mom when he came
face-to-face with a terrorist pointing an assault rifle in his face.
Shirley and Levon Saryan with Fr. Yeghishe Joulian and Fr. Krikor
Mikaelian in the water taxi to San Lazzaro (File photo)
“You TSA?” barked the shooter.
A petrified Saryan shook his head no, and his life was spared.
As bullets whizzed by him as he ran for cover, the prominent Armenian
numismatic collector and deacon of the church felt debris falling on
his shoulder. He thought for a moment as if he had dodged a bullet.
“You can call it divine intervention or whatever, but I want to
believe it was the hand of God which led me to safety,” he said. “I
was a sitting duck. It was not the way I would have wanted to part
with my coins but life is more precious. I was worried that I might
part from my loved ones without having had a chance to say goodbye.
The guy had his finger on the trigger. Why didn’t he pull it?”
Saryan’s 92-year-old mom Armine was resting comfortably inside her home
at Thousand Oaks, Calif., totally unaware of what transpired, even now.
“So far she seems to not realize anything went wrong that day,”
Saryan said. “We hope to keep it that way.”
Moments after the ordeal, Saryan notified his family in Racine. His
son, Armen, who had just changed jobs as a radio producer, wasn’t
aware of the news and got the exclusive back home for his station.
At the Milwaukee airport, Saryan was met by a bevy of TV stations and
a media onslaught. The sight of his wife Shirley and family turned
into an emotional homecoming. The embrace was long and tearful.
Daughter Ani works as a family practice physician in Racine, while
Shirley is a special education diagnostic teacher and city alderwoman
in Greenfield. The Saryans have been married 32 years. Both children
were active AYF members and held executive roles over their time.
Aside from being considered the world’s top numismatist of Armenian
coins, Saryan is an ordained deacon of the church and former NRA
representative; a Gomideh member for 40 years; a member of the Armenian
Relief Society (ARS); and vice-president of the church trustees.
“You TSA?” barked the shooter. A petrified Saryan shook his head no,
and his life was spared.
Few may know about his 50 publications in MR imaging and biochemistry,
along with lead and cancer research. What they also might find
fascinating are his 100 publications covering all facets of Armenian
After retiring as a toxicologist of 30 years, he is now a commissioner
of the Milwaukee Metropolitan Sewer System.
In 2009, he was inducted into the National Academy of Arts and Sciences
in Yerevan. Thanks to his research findings, a ban on leaded gasoline
was introduced, which likely reduced the blood lead levels in Yerevan
His resume aside, the harrowing encounter has brought Saryan
unprecedented acclaim as every leading newspaper and TV network
throughout the land has been at his disposal.
ABC called from New York. So did Anderson Cooper. Australian radio
interviewed him. Good Morning America did not, only because he turned
“They were willing to fly me out, put me in a hotel, just to get an
exclusive,” Saryan confirmed. “I’m not giving any of those shows an
exclusive. I’m not in this for a nickel. Why should I love them more
Saryan admitted he had a “soft spot” in his heart for the Armenian
Weekly, being a lifelong subscriber and contributor. He’s also written
articles for the Armenian Review, whether it’s on the subject of
coinage or the Mekhitarist Fathers. His vast knowledge of Armenian
history and linguistics has made him a wealth of information throughout
Word quickly spread throughout the Armenian land about Saryan’s
ordeal. Phone calls by the drove, e-mails that battered his computer.
People stopping him in his tracks waiting for a personal account.
In everyone’s mind, he’s “the man who cheated death.”
The shooting occurred just after noon on Friday, killing a TSA employee
and wounding seven others in an attack that frightened passengers and
disrupted flights nationwide. The suspect identified as Paul Anthony
Ciancia is now in custody.
Saryan speculates that the bullet that found a TSA agent might have
been meant for him while he was running for safety. The weapon was
identified as a .223-caliber semi-automatic assault-style rifle.
“The shooter was spraying bullets down the corridor before he caught
up with me,” Saryan described. “He had his gun ready to shoot. I was
at his mercy and there wasn’t anything I could do about it. I just
prayed to God. That’s all I did. I prayed.”
Saryan had just passed through the security check and was picking
up his belongings when the boom was lowered. He still had his shoes
and belt discarded when the shooter came through with a rifle that
immediately found a target.
Saryan said the gunman approached the security line firing his weapon,
hitting the TSA agent who had been helping him.
According to Saryan, the gunman fired three or four shots before
powering through the security line, scattering the crowd.
“There were more shots with glass shattering,” he noted. “With his
rifle in hand, he was ready to shoot anyone he wanted to, anyone he
Saryan escaped to another terminal while the airport remained on
lockdown. He called his wife at work and said he almost got shot and
had been hiding.
When the shooting subsided, Saryan ran to the TSA agent who had been
shot. He found the man bleeding and offered to help.
Safely back home, Saryan is hoping to put the past behind him,
provided he can. It’s the type of notoriety he can do without.
“I’m back to work, back to a normal lifestyle, looking for ways to
distract my thoughts in a positive way,” he says. “It’s too early to
tell how this will change my life. I won’t be haunted by it.”