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Justified tragedy in Miami Federal air marshals stopped a threat they weren't given time to evaluate

There is this to be said first about the tragic shooting, by federal air marshals, of a man who claimed he had a bomb in his backpack and ran from an aircraft at Miami International Airport: In security terms, the system worked.

There will be a full investigation, and rightly so. But when the man claimed to have a bomb on board American Airlines Flight 924 Wednesday, he uttered perhaps the worst thing anyone could utter at an airport, let alone on an aircraft or in a jet-way, in this post- 9/1 1 era. Federal air marshals have an obligation to act quickly and decisively in the interests of passengers, personnel and the public.

As it turns out, the man in question, Rigoberto Alpizar, an American citizen from Maitland, Fla., did not possess a bomb. But the air marshals didn't have time to evaluate his claim, because he immediately ignored their orders and moved toward what he had said was a bomb. As trained, they took decisive action that put the safety of other passengers first.

Alpizar's wife, also aboard, reportedly shouted -- but perhaps not within the hearing of the marshals -- that her husband was bipolar and had been off his medication. While any fatal shooting demands investigating, and any shooting by law and security officers demands procedural reviews as well, consider the potential alternative: A carefully orchestrated plot by a team of suicide bombers -- sound familiar? -- that leads to deaths on a massive scale.

This incident is the first in which a federal air marshal has opened fire since marshals became common on flights after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. This was a tragic situation, especially in light of the man's reported mental condition. His life has been ended. His wife and family have been devastated. Passengers, many of whom dropped to the floor sobbing in terror following the gunshots, will be forever affected.

But the world in which we now live is one in which the unimaginable has become frighteningly possible, and the marshals seem to have acted not only quickly but appropriately.

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