by Alisa Roberts
Each year, the Hen family goes back to LAX to pay respects to Vicky Hen and the other victims who were killed and injured in the 2002 terror attack at the El-Al counter. However for Avi Hen, Vicky’s father, there is another important reason to make the trip. “If you ask 1000 people at the airport if they know there was a terror attack here in 2002, no one will say,” yes””, he explains. “No one knows about it.”
While the Jewish community of Los Angeles might remember that terror attack, Avi Hen contends that most people are still unaware of the circumstances surrounding it. He has spent thousands of dollars and many years of his life investigating the terrible incident. He has interviewed eyewitnesses who were in the terminal that fateful day and he has tracked down family members of the gunman in Egypt. What he has learned is chilling.
According to his investigation, on that day in 2002, just 10 months after the September 11th attacks, airport police were pulled from the terminal in order to cover other areas of the city. It took between 7 and 10 minutes for the first officer to arrive on the scene after the shooting. Worse, it took almost 25 minutes for the paramedics to arrive. “We were told that Vicky died instantly, but that was a lie,” Avi recalls. He speaks calmly, but his anger and sadness are palpable. “It took Klaus [Klaus Hackel, El-Al Airlines LAX Station Chief at the time] at least seven minutes to get there, and he said she was still looking at him, moving her eyes… She might only have had a 2% chance, but there was a chance if someone had been there to help her.”
At the same time Avi Hen’s research shows that the shooter had already been removed from the terminal several times for suspicious behavior, and he was known to the FBI. Despite this, after the attacks happened there was no organization, not the FBI nor the LAPD or airport security who admitted to a security breakdown. No one so much as lost their job. This was unacceptable to Hen and he felt it necessary to start work on a lawsuit against the city.
After months of painstakingly gathering evidence with the help of several high-powered attorneys, the case came before the court. It was dismissed almost immediately. “The judge opened the file, glanced at the first pages, and dismissed it. I didn’t even get to speak.” Several appeals were also denied.
The Hen family has been through too much. Just four months after Victoria was killed, their 18-year-old son Nimrod died in a routine surgery following a car accident. Mired in these tragedies and their aftermath, the Hen’s financial situation quickly deteriorated. Avi had spent over $400,000 on the lawsuit, as well as time away from work to focus on the investigation. In 2010 it got so bad that they almost lost their home. While they managed to keep it, they are still struggling. “The only money we got was $5000 for the funeral – which they took back when we filed the lawsuit.” This isn’t the only way the family feels ignored and disrespected by the city, “Vicky was killed on city land. But no one from the city ever shows up at any memorial.” Avi recalls promises made and broken by politicians and others. “They forgot about us.”
After more than a decade, Avi is still waiting. While no longer pursuing lawsuits, he is still certain that his daughter died because of a failure in security that could have been avoided. He wants someone to be held accountable for that failure. So each year he goes back to LAX, with photos of his beautiful daughter and posters filled with information about the attack. “People need to know,” he says.
If you are interested in helping the Hen family, please contact Avi at firstname.lastname@example.org