Hours after Pope Francis left New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport for Philadelphia on Saturday, a retired New York City firefighter driving a black SUV and armed with a knife breached airport security, prosecutors said.
When he was caught, the suspect told police he was hoping to “give the pope his business card,” according to court records.
Chris Cannella, 39, was driving a black Chevy Tahoe similar to Secret Service vehicles when he was stopped and arrested, records show. He was allegedly pretending to be part of a VIP motorcade when he made it onto the tarmac.
A guard said Cannella drove up directly behind one motorcade around 6 p.m. ET and “flashed something silver that looked like a police badge,” then drove past the guard post, according to court records.
Around 7:30 p.m., a police officer saw Cannella drive behind another VIP motorcade carrying Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi, ABC News reported. When the officer asked why he was following the motorcade, Cannella showed him a retired FDNY badge and said the Secret Service allowed him in before, but he couldn’t name the agent.
Police stopped and arrested him.
Cannella told police he went through the checkpoint “because he was trying to give the pope his business card” and wanted to “talk to world leaders to effectuate change,” prosecutors said on Monday.
He had a knife with a blade more than 4 inches long, according to Port Authority police. Authorities searching Cannella’s car also recovered marijuana and a 9mm magazine containing five hollow-point rounds.
The pope had flown out of JFK that morning and was already in Philadelphia by the time the incident took place.
Authorities said surveillance video captured both incidents, CBS News reported. Court documents said Cannella claims to be a New York City firefighter retired on disability. He was arraigned Monday on charges including criminal impersonation and trespassing.
Scott Bookstein, Cannella’s lawyer, told the New York Daily News that his client “is a guy going through a lot of stress who did something stupid.”
He added, “This is completely blown out of proportion.”
Bookstein said Cannella is a married father of two whose firefighting career was ended by “a bum hip,” the Daily News reported. Cannella has never before been in trouble and was mourning the loss of a 6-year-old niece who had recently died of cancer, he said.
“I think it’s had a traumatic effect on him,” Bookstein said. “I don’t think he wanted to accost the pope. I think he would have liked to get a message to the Pope through one of his people, hoping for a prayer or maybe an audience.”
Read or Share this story: http://usat.ly/1KGRzk9