The two men who were questioned after an alarm set off at Newark Liberty Airport on Labor Day sparked panic have spoken out, saying they were racially profiled.
The airport evacuated in a panic Monday night after an Alaska Airlines employee hit an alarm following an encounter with two men, officials said at the time. David Lombardi, a sportswriter for TheAthletic.com who was at the airport, described a scene of “confusion and chaos” as travelers fled the terminal, fearing an active shooter or bomb threat.
Speaking to BuzzFeed News, Han Han Xue, 29, a product designer for Lyft returning home to San Francisco after visiting friends in New York City over the long weekend, said he was “minding (his) own business” when an Alaska Airlines employee walked into him, then repeatedly asked Chunyi Luo, 20, a student who was standing near Xue but did not know him, if he was nervous.
Luo told the employee he was nervous because his flight back to college in San Francisco was late.
A video shows passengers standing on a tarmac at Newark Airport after a terminal was evacuated on Monday night.
North Jersey Record
She asked Xue if he knew Luo and wondered why he was “acting suspiciously,” both men noted. Xue added that she asked more questions, like “How much are they paying you?” and “Did they give you a visa?”
He didn’t know who “they” referred to or how to respond, he told BuzzFeed, and began to walk away, feeling racially targeted and harassed. At that point, Xue said, the airline employee followed him to where other passengers waiting to board the flight and said, “I’m onto you guys. The cops are already called.”
USA TODAY has reached out to Alaska Airlines for comment.
“I couldn’t believe this was happening,” Xue told BuzzFeed, adding that the moment the employee called for evacuation was “really hard to describe.”
“Everybody started running. It was the most insane scene I’ve ever been in or ever seen,” he recalled.
Without naming the men involved, Port Authority representative Lenis Rodrigues on Tuesday told the North Jersey Record, part of the USA TODAY Network, that they had been cleared, while the airline employee was being questioned.
“Alaska Airlines values the safety of our guests as our highest priority,” the airline said Tuesday in an emailed statement. “We’re conducting a thorough investigation to determine what occurred.”
Contributing: Keldy Ortiz, North Jersey Record
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