Posted on January 7, 2017 by Editorial Staff in US
People exit the airport perimeter following a shooting incident, Florida . Photo: Reuters
FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla.,— An Army veteran who complained that the government was controlling his mind drew a gun from his checked luggage on arrival at the Fort Lauderdale airport and opened fire in the baggage claim area Friday, killing five people and wounding eight, authorities said.
He was taken into custody after throwing his empty weapon down and lying spread-eagle on the ground, one witness said.
The gunman was identified by authorities as 26-year-old Esteban Santiago, who served in Iraq with the National Guard but was demoted and discharged last year for unsatisfactory performance. His brother said he had been receiving psychological treatment recently.
A law enforcement official told The Associated Press that Santiago had walked into the FBI office in his hometown of Anchorage, Alaska, in November to say that the U.S. government was controlling his mind and making him watch Islamic State videos.
Agents questioned him and called police, who took him for a mental health evaluation, according to the official, who was not authorized to discuss the investigation and spoke on condition of anonymity.
Authorities said the motive for the attack was under investigation. Shortly after the shooting, and before details of Santiago’s mental health became public, Sen. Bill Nelson of Florida said that it remained to be seen whether it was terrorism or the work of “someone who is mentally deranged.”
One witness said the attacker gunned down his victims without a word and kept shooting until he ran out of ammunition for his handgun, sending panicked travelers running out of the terminal and spilling onto the tarmac, baggage in hand.
Others crouched behind cars or anything else they could find to shield themselves as police and paramedics rushed in to help the wounded and establish whether there were any other gunmen. The airport was shut down.
“People started kind of screaming and trying to get out of any door they could or hide under the chairs,” a witness, Mark Lea, told MSNBC. “He just kind of continued coming in, just randomly shooting at people, no rhyme or reason to it.”
It is legal for airline passengers to travel with guns and ammunition as long as the firearms are put in a checked bag – not a carry-on – and are unloaded and locked in a hard-sided container. Guns must be declared to the airline at check-in.
Santiago arrived in Fort Lauderdale after taking off from Anchorage aboard a Delta flight Thursday night, checking only one piece of luggage – his gun, said Jesse Davis, police chief at the Anchorage airport.
At Fort Lauderdale, “after he claimed his bag, he went into the bathroom and loaded the gun and started shooting. We don’t know why,” said Chip LaMarca, a Broward County commissioner who was briefed by investigators.
The bloodshed is likely to raise questions of whether aviation safety officials need to change the rules.
The attack also exposed another weak point in airport security: While travelers have to take off their shoes, put their carry-on luggage through X-ray machines and pass through metal detectors to reach the gates, many other sections of airports, such as ticket counters and baggage claim areas, are more lightly secured and more vulnerable to attack.