January 7, 2017 7:36:21 am
An Iraq war veteran took a gun out of his checked luggage and opened fire in a crowded baggage claim area at Fort Lauderdale’s airport on Friday, killing five people before being taken into custody, authorities said. Eight other people were wounded in the shooting rampage, which sent panicked travelers running for cover inside the terminal and onto the tarmac.
The gunman was identified as Esteban Santiago, 26, who was carrying US military identification, according to a spokesman for US Senator Bill Nelson of Florida, citing officials at the Transportation Security Administration (TSA). An aunt said he came back from his deployment “a different person,” MSNBC reported. In November, Santiago told the Federal Bureau of Investigation that his mind was being controlled and agents sent him to a mental hospital, said a federal law enforcement official, speaking on condition of anonymity.
Santiago served from 2007 to 2016 in the Puerto Rico National Guard and Alaska National Guard including a deployment to Iraq from 2010 to 2011, according to the Pentagon. A private first class and combat engineer, he received half a dozen medals before being transferred to the inactive ready reserve in August last year.
The shooter arrived on a flight to Fort Lauderdale with a checked gun in his bag, and upon claiming the luggage went to the bathroom to load the gun, Broward County Commissioner Chip LaMarca said on Twitter. He came out firing, LaMarca said, and witnesses told MSNBC television he only stopped after running out of ammunition, at which point he surrendered to police.
Cellphone video posted on social media showed travelers kneeling and treating victims on the floor next to a carousel. At least two victims had pools of blood from apparent head wounds. Flying with firearms is routine and legal in the United States as long as the guns are kept in a locked, hard-sided container as checked baggage only, under TSA rules. Ammunition is prohibited in carry-on bags but is allowed in checked luggage.
The suspect was unharmed as law enforcement officers never fired a shot, Broward County Sheriff Scott Israel told reporters at the airport, adding it was too early to assign a motive. “At this point, it looks like he acted alone,” Israel said while police continued to search the airport. The gunman, who wore a “Star Wars” T-shirt, said nothing as he fired, witnesses told MSNBC. He appeared to use a 9 mm handgun, which he tossed aside once it was empty, MSNBC reported.
“This is a senseless act of evil,” Florida Governor Rick Scott told reporters. A White House spokesman said President Barack Obama had spoken to Scott and Broward County Mayor Barbara Sharief and had extended his condolences to the loved ones of the victims.
FBI SENT SHOOTER TO MENTAL HOSPITAL
The attack was the latest in a series of mass shootings that have plagued the United States in recent years, some inspired by militants with an extreme view of Islam, others carried out by loners or the mentally disturbed. A federal law enforcement official told Reuters that in November Santiago turned up at a FBI office in Anchorage and told agents that his mind was being controlled by a US intelligence agency, which was ordering him to watch Islamic State videos. Santiago was sent by the FBI to a mental hospital and a subsequent investigation turned up no evidence that he had connections to any foreign terrorist organization, the source said.
John Schlicher, who told MSNBC he saw the attack, said the shooter was “directly firing at us” while passengers waited for their bags. His wife gave first aid to a victim who had been shot in the head, and his mother-in-law used her sweater to tend to another victim but it turned out that person was already dead, he said.
Mark Lea, another eyewitness, told MSNBC, “He didn’t say anything; he was quiet the whole time.” Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport is the second largest in South Florida, serving as an intercontinental gateway. Nearly two months ago a former Southwest Airlines worker killed an employee of the company at Oklahoma City’s airport in what police called a premeditated act.
The deadliest mass shooting in modern US history took place last June, when a gunman apparently inspired by Islamic State killed 49 people and wounded 53 at a gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida.
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