08.20.2021 | 5:30 PM | SANTA ANA – A suspect believed to be responsible for a security breach that prompted a lock down at John Wayne Airport was arrested, Friday night.
The incident began to unfold when an airport employee identified an unauthorized individual operating an airport vehicle in a secured portion of the airfield around 5:30 PM.
The employee followed as the suspect drove the airport vehicle around the airfield before losing visual of him near Terminal C.
Officials placed the airport on lockdown, grounding inbound and outbound flights while evacuating travelers from Terminal C around 6:00 PM.
After about two hours and an extensive search effort the suspect was not located and the airport lockdown was lifted.
Then, around 9:00 PM, an alert TSA official along with a traveler heard movement coming from a ceiling near the border of Terminal B and C.
Deputies responded and located debris that had fallen from the ceiling and surrounded the area as they made contact with the suspect.
The man, later identified as 51-year-old Johnny Howard Hecker, of San Diego, tried to negotiate with authorities for a little under an hour before eventually descending a 20-foot ladder and surrendering to authorities. He was later booked into the Orange County Jail in lieu of $120,000 bail on charges of trespassing and vandalism.
It is believed the Hecker somehow entered the sterile side of the terminal from the airfield before finding his way to a roof hatch through a closed restaurant and then becoming stuck on the non-sterile side.
Court records indicate Hecker is no stranger to the law, having been charged and convicted of smuggling illegal aliens across the border from Mexico in 2008.
An FBI press release along with local reporting from 2013 indicates Hecker was arrested in connection with a string of bank robberies that occurred across southern California, however the disposition of those charges was not immediately clear.
Reporting at the time attributed his arrest to alert Seal Beach police officers who identified a white supremacist tattoo on Hecker’s neck.
The airport kerfuffle delayed multiple leaving passengers stranded in planes on the tarmac as the incident unfolded. Other passengers reportedly had to be rescreened after the evacuations.
Sheriff’s Department officials including members of the Orange County Intelligence Assessment Center are investigating how the Hecker made it onto the airfield.