Fort Lauderdale Airport shooting suspect appears in court

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Thursday, January 12, 2017

Esteban Ruiz Santiago, 26, appeared in federal court in Fort Lauderdale, Broward County, Florida this Monday. Santiago stands accused of a shooting at Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport on Friday at 12:55 p.m. local time (1755 UTC) at the lower level baggage claim area in Terminal 2 of the airport. The incident killed five people and injured six, with roughly another 40 people injured in the crowd while hastily evacuating from the scene.

Esteban Santiago mug shot, January 7, 2017.
Image: Broward County Sheriff's Office, Florida.

Police drove Santiago from the Broward County main jail to the court building in the morning. At the hearing, Santiago attended handcuffed and also cuffed at the ankles, guarded by at least eight police officers. The Magistrate, Judge Alicia Valle, questioned Santiago on his finances. The prosecutor also sought a detention order for public safety and flight risk. The hearing took about 20 minutes. The Judge ordered Santiago a public defender, and set a detention hearing for January 17, and the arraignment hearing for January 23. After the hearing, the police returned Santiago to the Broward County main jail.

At the hearing, Santiago had admitted to earning US$2,100 a month as a security guard in Alaska, while only having about US$10 of savings in a bank, and no other property. The Judge also informed Santiago of the penalties that may be imposed on him in the case he was convicted.

On Friday, authorities said, Santiago arrived from Anchorage, Alaska with only one baggage item — a suitcase with an unloaded Glock 9 mm semi-automatic handgun. Upon arriving at the airport, he picked up the suitcase at the baggage claim carousel and loaded it in a nearby bathroom. Then he walked out and started shooting people, at random according to a witness. People started to run and hide, and Santiago continued to shoot. Then Santiago stopped shooting, witnesses claiming he ran out of ammunition. The police arrested him. He did not resist the arrest.

According to officials, Santiago received a mental health evaluation in November, after he traveled to an FBI office and walked in alleging his head was controlled by the government and he heard voices urging him to watch ISIS propaganda. At the time of that incident he left his infant son and a gun in a car, and the infant was given to mother's care. His gun was seized at the time of that incident, but Santiago was given it back on December 8.

Santiago traveled from Anchorage, Alaska to Minneapolis to Fort Lauderdale Airport on a Delta Airlines flight. Investigations were ongoing to determine the motivation for the incident. No evidence was found of Santiago communicating with any other individual in relation to the incident; he seemed to be acting alone. In an interview, Santiago admitted to having planned the shooting in advance when purchasing the airline ticket. According to CNN, Esteban Santiago previously belonged to the Alaska Army National Guard, including a ten-month stint in Iraq where he was given a combat action badge. According to Santiago's family, his mental health issues started after his ten-month tour in Iraq, after which he began to tell them about auditory hallucinations.

All flights to and from Fort Lauderdale Airport were suspended by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) until Saturday morning, and roads in and out of the airport closed.

Santiago was born in New Jersey. He spent his childhood in Puerto Rico, an unincorporated US territory in the northeastern Caribbean Sea.

At the time of the incident, it was legal in the US to transport guns in a hard-sided and locked container by air. In Florida, it was also legal to carry a gun in an airport terminal without removing the gun from its case.


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