A man driving a black SUV and armed with a knife breached airport security, making it all the way to the tarmac at John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York, just hours after Pope Francis had left from the airport for Philadelphia on Saturday, prosecutors said.
When he was caught, Chris Cannella, 39, a retired New York City firefighter, told police he was hoping to “give the pope his business card,” according to court documents.
Mr. Cannella was driving a black Chevy Tahoe similar to Secret Service vehicles when he was stopped and arrested, records show, USA Today reported.
He was carrying a knife with a blade more than 4 inches long, Port Authority police said. Authorities also found marijuana and a 9mm magazine containing five hollow-point rounds in Mr. Cannella’s car, according to USA Today.
Mr. Cannella was reportedly able to make it on to the tarmac by pretending to be part of a VIP motorcade.
A guard said Mr. Cannella drove up directly behind a motorcade around 6 p.m. and “flashed something silver that looked like a police badge,” then drove past the guard post, according to court documents.
Then around 7:30 p.m., a police officer spotted Mr. Cannella driving behind another VIP motorcade carrying Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi, ABC News reported.
When police stopped Mr. Cannella and asked why he was following the motorcade, he showed police his retired FDNY badge and said the Secret Service allowed him in before. Police then arrested him.
Prosecutors said Monday that Mr. 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,” USA Today reported.
The pope had already flown out of JFK and landed in Philadelphia by the time the incident took place.
Mr. Cannella’s lawyer, Scott Bookstein, told the New York Daily News that his client “is a guy going through a lot of stress who did something stupid.”
According to court documents, Mr. Cannella claimed he retired from the FDNY on disability.
Mr. Bookstein said Mr. Cannella is a married father of two whose firefighting career was ended by “a bum hip,” the Daily News reported. Mr. 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,” Mr. 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.”
Mr. Cannella was arraigned on Monday on charges including criminal impersonation and trespassing.
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