Rigoberto Alpizar

Rigoberto Alpizar, a gentle Christian man with a loving family and a lot of friends, did not deserve to be shot to death by two federal goons in a jetway at Miami International Airport.

What is the duty of air marshals? It is to prevent terrorists from taking over an airplane. How can a man who is unarmed and not even on the airplane take it over? Alpizar, who suffered from manic-depression, got into a panic while returning from a missionary trip to Ecuador. He got up from his seat and bolted for the door, went out it and was running down the jetway toward the terminal.

This occurred shortly after he boarded the plane, which was still sitting on the tarmac with the jetway connected to it.

His wife, who was running after him and telling the passengers he was sick, was stopped and forced into a seat. The two air marshals, who for no known reason decided to pursue him, followed him into the jetway and shot him to death.

Their story is that he said something about a bomb and reached for his backpack. I say that is bull, a story they concocted to cover up a bad shoot. The passengers whose interviews I’ve seen said they didn’t hear any talk of a bomb. Because he was not on the airplane, the Miami police are investigating, and I hope they do a thorough and transparent job of it.

There was no reason for the two undercover air marshals even to involve themselves. It is not a federal crime to want to get off an airplane. There was nothing in his behavior that would indicate he was anything but what he was, an ordinary passenger who wanted to get off the airplane. They should not have followed him off the airplane. They should not have shot him. And the gutless politicians and bureaucrats who rushed on television — long before they could possibly know any of the facts — to excuse the air marshals ought to be ashamed. It shows clearly where their loyalties lie — with the government, not with the people.

Air marshals should never reveal themselves unless someone is clearly about to endanger the plane or injure the crew or the passengers. They are undercover federal agents assigned to fight terrorists. They are not barroom bouncers.

An innocent American civilian (Alpizar was born in Costa Rica but years ago became a legal American citizen) died for no good reason. He lived in Maitland, Fla., and worked in a paint store. His wife said he had not taken his medication, which caused him to become agitated and desperate to get off the airplane.

I think the poor man was a victim of the boredom syndrome. Being an air marshal has to be the most boring and annoying job in the universe. Can you imagine having to fly on crowded airplanes day after day with nothing to do but watch passengers?

When Alpizar started running for the door, they roused themselves from their bored state and started to pursue him. They no doubt got angry because he refused their shouted orders to stop (if a guy had a bomb but was running for the door, why would you want him to stop?). When he did stop and turned to face them, one or both of them fired, and then I think they realized they had better think of a good excuse. They were lucky there were no eyewitnesses in the jetway.

They will probably get off, and we will have yet one more example of federal arrogance and disregard not only for people’s rights but also for their lives. Personally, I’d rather take my chances with the passengers overcoming a terrorist than ride on an airplane with trigger-happy federal goons bored out of their minds. The federal government, by the way, has a poor record in hiring and recruiting these guys. They hired one guy only to later discover that he had been rejected by three police departments because of mental instability.

Charley Reese [send him mail] has been a journalist for 49 years.