Police are investigating whether the terrorist who opened fire at the Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood Airport in Florida was mentally disturbed or if he had any links to ISIS after he executed five people in the baggage claim hall with a gun he had checked in his luggage.
Gunman terrorist Esteban Santiago – an Iraq war veteran – was taken into custody after he opened fire in the lower level baggage claim area in Terminal 2 on Friday about 1pm.
Santiago flew into the airport from Anchorage, Alaska (with a layover in Minneapolis, St. Paul) on Delta flight 2182 with a firearm as his only piece of checked luggage. The 26-year-old, who was dressed in a Star Wars t-shirt, claimed his bag, went to the bathroom to load his handgun and then started shooting people dead.
Law enforcement are now investigating why the terrorist was in Florida as they try to determine a motive for the shooting spree. FBI officials said late Friday they had not ruled out terrorism and were investigating all angles.
Santiago’s relatives said the 26-year-old had a history of mental health issues – some of which followed his military service in Iraq several years ago.
Authorities said Santiago walked into an FBI office in Anchorage in November last year claiming the government was trying to control his mind and he was being forced to watch ISIS videos. After that incident, Santiago started getting treatment for his mental health issues.
He was previously pictured giving a one-fingered salute, which is commonly used by ISIS jihadists often before they embark on a suicide bombing.
Santiago was also contacted by the FBI after an employer back in Alaska raised concerns about certain things he had said.
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.
A private first class and combat engineer, he received half a dozen medals before receiving a general discharge for unsatisfactory performance in August last year.
His aunt Maria Ruiz told NorthJersey.com that Santiago had returned from Iraq acting strangely but had seemed happy after the birth of his child in September last year.
But she said something happened to him about a month ago and he was hospitalized for two weeks. She did not have details of his condition.
‘Like a month ago, it was like he lost his mind. He said he saw things,’ she said.
Santiago’s brother Bryan Santiago said he could have suffered a ‘flashback’ from his time in Iraq, despite never being diagnosed with PTSD.
The motive for the shooting is still not known, but Florida Senator Marco Rubio told CNN that Santiago may have gotten into an altercation on his flight earlier that morning.
‘I know that was mentioned as a potential cause and they wanted to kind of look into that a little further and get to that point,’ Rubio said.
Santiago’s brother said he had been fighting with people back in Alaska, including his girlfriend who he was having relationship issues with.
He said Santiago, who was ‘was pro-America’, has not spoken to his family for several weeks.
‘We have not talked for the past three weeks,’ Bryan told the Associated Press. ‘That’s a bit unusual… I’m in shock. He was a serious person… He was a normal person.’
The gunman was born in New Jersey but moved to Puerto Rico where his mother and brother still live. He came back to Puerto Rico after serving in Iraq, before moving to Alaska. He lived there from 2014 to 2016 and his girlfriend and child are still there. His most recent address was in Naples, Florida.
Other details about the shooter reveal he had a minor criminal record for traffic violations, according to court records. He was also evicted by his landlord for failing to pay rent in February 2015.
Santiago was charged with fourth-degree assault and damage of property in January 2016, stemming from a domestic violence incident.
In March, Santiago settled the charges by agreeing to complete unknown requirements demanded by prosecutors in exchange for dismissing the case.