Fort Lauderdale Airport Shooter ‘Came Here Specifically’ to Attack, FBI Says
The suspected gunman who opened fire at the Fort Lauderdale airport “came here specifically to carry out this horrific attack,” Miami FBI Special Agent George Piro said Saturday.
“We have not identified any triggers that would have caused this attack,” he added.
People wait at the Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International airport after a shooting took place near the baggage claim on Jan. 6, 2017. (Credit: Joe Raedle / Getty Images)
Esteban Santiago, the suspected attacker, went to baggage claim Friday afternoon to pick up his one piece of checked luggage: a case with a handgun inside, authorities said.
Santiago allegedly took the 9 mm handgun out of its case and fired at other travelers Friday afternoon, killing five people at the Fort Lauderdale airport. On Saturday, authorities revised the number of wounded to six after earlier saying eight.
A few months earlier he reportedly had a mental evaluation after a bizarre visit to an FBI office in Alaska.
The shooting sent the airport terminal into chaos, with people running for cover. They started running again when rumors of more gunshots and a possible second shooter spread through the busy airport. Almost 40 others would get hurt in the rushed evacuation after the attack. Some suffered sprains and bruises; others had broken bones.
CNN has confirmed the names of two victims. Olga Woltering, a grandmother from Marietta, Georgia, who was in Fort Lauderdale with her husband to go on a cruise; and Terry Andres of Virginia Beach, Virginia, who was on vacation with his wife to celebrate his 63rd birthday, were among five people who died when a gunman opened fire in a baggage claim area of the airport.
Authorities “continue to look at the terrorism angle” as a possible motive for the shooting rampage, said Piro, the FBI’s special agent in charge in Miami. “We have not ruled out anything,” he said. “We continue to look at all avenues, all motives.”
Piro said Santiago was cooperating with investigators, who had interviewed him for several hours. The interview concluded early Saturday.
Authorities identified the Fort Lauderdale gunman as Esteban Santiago, who allegedly brought the firearm in his checked luggage on Jan. 7, 2017. (Credit: CNN)
Who is Esteban Santiago?
Law enforcement officials identified Esteban Santiago, 26, as the suspect in the five deaths at Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport.
Santiago didn’t resist when he was taken into custody, Broward County Sheriff Scott Israel said. According to his booking information, Santiago is being held without bond on a murder charge.
He lives in Alaska, where he was a security guard. He was a member of the Alaska Army National Guard from November 2014 until August when he was discharged for unsatisfactory performance, a spokeswoman for the guard said.
In November, Santiago paid a visit to the FBI office in Anchorage, telling agents he was hearing voices and being directed by a U.S. intelligence agency to watch ISIS videos, law enforcement sources told CNN.
Piro told reporters that Santiago was turned over to local authorities and he voluntarily submitted to a mental health evaluation.
“His erratic behavior concerned FBI agents,” Piro said Saturday.
The military said Santiago’s nine years of service in the National Guard included one 10-month tour of Iraq, where he was awarded a combat action badge.
Santiago returned from Iraq a changed man, his aunt told CNN on Saturday.
“His mind was not right,” the aunt, Maria Ruiz Rivera, said in a phone interview in Spanish from her home in New Jersey. “He seemed normal at times, but other times he seemed lost. He changed.”
She added, “He talked about all the destruction and the killing of children. He had visions all the time.”
Ruiz said she lost contact with Santiago several months ago.
“He stopped calling,” she said. “He wouldn’t respond to my messages. I would call and text. He seemed distant.”
Her family is still in shock.
“Who would have imagined that he could do something like this?” she said. “I don’t say that because we’re family. I say it because he wasn’t like that.”
What are rules for firearms in airports/checked bags?
Taking a gun on a plane is legal if a passenger brings the weapon in a case that locks and checks the suitcase containing the gun.
The gun cannot be loaded, though regulations allow travelers who fill out a declaration form to also bring ammunition.
Florida law prohibits guns inside terminals unless they are still in their case, but there is a bill before the state Legislature to allow guns in public places such as airports.
People seek cover on the tarmac of Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International airport after a shooting took place near the baggage claim on January 6, 2017 in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. . (Credit: Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
What was it like at the airport?
Sara Graham, who had been vacationing in Fort Lauderdale, wrote on Instagram that she and her family were about 100 feet away from the shooter.
Graham said her brother led her and her mother to safety after the commotion began.
“When we first heard the shots we had no idea what was happening until everyone started running towards exits,” she wrote. “We hid for about 30 minutes and we’re let back inside, under the impression it was all safe.”
Then there was a rumor of another shooter and people started running again.
“Once we were outside, we had to run three more times until we were sure that we were safe,” she said.
They spent the rest of Friday afternoon in an aircraft hangar before people were allowed to leave.
One man told CNN’s Anderson Cooper that a laptop in a backpack he had slung over his shoulder stopped a bullet that could have killed him.
“I felt something hit my back,” Steve Frappier said, adding he thought it was luggage falling off the carousel.
It was a bullet, which ricocheted off the laptop. He found it in the side pocket of his bag.
Other witnesses described the aftermath of the shooting as a “war zone” and “mass hysteria.”
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