Richard Russell, a 29-year-old ground service staffer for Alaska Air subsidiary Horizon Air, has been identified as the culprit in a dramatic plane theft at Washington’s Seattle-Tacoma International Airport late Friday. His brazen act ended in a fiery crash that is being characterized as a suicide, and his family is now speaking about the fallout.
In a statement to CNN, Russell’s family described him as “a faithful husband, a loving son and a good friend.” His actions, they said, were “a complete shock to us . . . We are devastated by these events, and Jesus is truly the only one holding this family together right now.”
The picture of Russell as a loving family man is supported by biographical details and social media posts reported by USA Today. On a personal blog, Russell described growing up in Alaska, and about his love of traveling with his wife, with whom he reportedly owned a bakery. Coworkers described Russell as quiet and well-liked, and personal tributes to Russell, also known as “Beebo,” have also surfaced on Twitter.
As recently as December 2017, Russell uploaded an upbeat chronicle of his job and lifestyle to YouTube. The video includes footage from Russell’s apparently extensive global travel, and narration from Russell saying his job allowed him “to visit those I love most.”
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Despite those signs of contentment and positivity, Russell described himself to authorities as “a broken guy” with “a few screws loose” in audio recordings made during his plane heist.
Russell’s actions, though not considered an act of terrorism by authorities, have also triggered renewed concerns about airport security. As an airline employee, Russell had relatively free access to airline equipment, including the plane he stole. Russell did not have a pilot’s license, but claimed during the incident to have learned to fly using computer flight simulators. Experts speaking to the New York Times expressed surprise at the skill level demonstrated before his fatal, and apparently intentional, crash.