A senseless act of evil

KILLER Esteban Santiago in custody following his shooting spree at a Fort Lauderdale airport in Florida. Picture: EPA / Broward County Sheriff
KILLER Esteban Santiago in custody following his shooting spree at a Fort Lauderdale airport in Florida. Picture: EPA / Broward County Sheriff

When the Alaska Army National Guard in the US gave Esteban Santiago a general discharge last year for unsatisfactory performance, after two years in service, he was an expectant father.

His child was born in September.

Two months later, Santiago visited the FBI in Anchorage in Alaska, where he unleashed several conspiracy theories.

Among his many stories, he claimed he was hearing voices in his head and that the CIA was controlling him to watch videos of the Islamic State (IS) and join the terrorist organisation.

He also told the FBI that he did not want to harm anyone.

This prompted the agents to refer him to local police, who took Santiago to hospital for a mental checkup. After several checks and FBI agents looking into his “contacts”, the investigation was closed.

On Friday, Santiago travelled to Florida from Alaska with other passengers. He even booked in his firearm.

Witnesses said he was involved in an altercation on the flight, but the incident was not serious enough for him to be stopped when the plane landed at Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport in Florida.

Upon landing, Santiago collected his bag and weapon and went to the bathroom, where he loaded his gun. He then returned to the baggage claim area, where he randomly opened fire on passengers, police said.

Five passengers were killed and eight more injured before Santiago put the weapon down and surrendered to police.

It is unclear whether he had run out of bullets or was reloading when the arrest was made. He uttered no words during the shooting spree, nor did he take any of the passengers hostage. He wore a Star Wars T-shirt.

“This is a senseless act of evil,” Florida governor Rick Scott told reporters.

A White House spokesperson said President Barack Obama had extended his condolences to the victims’ families and had spoken to Scott and Barbara Sharief, the mayor of Broward County, where Fort Lauderdale is located.

On Friday, Santiago was booked into Broward County Jail. He is expected to face numerous murder charges and is likely to appear in court tomorrow.

As authorities try to find out what prompted the shooting, more information is emerging of the
26-year-old gunman.

Born in 1990 in New Jersey to Puerto Rican parents, Santiago’s family relocated back to Puerto Rico when he was two years old. He grew up in the southern coastal town of Peñuelas and joined the Puerto Rico National Guard in 2007.

He was deployed to Iraq in 2010 as a combat engineer. A year later, he returned to the US.

In 2014, he joined the Alaska National Guard – a post he held until he was discharged four months ago. His brother, Bryan, described Santiago as “pro-American” and spiritual.

His aunt said Santiago came back from his deployment to Iraq “a different person”.

Besides minor traffic transgressions, Santiago’s other brush with the law occurred last year, when he verbally assaulted his then girlfriend through a locked bathroom door, telling her to “get the fuck out, b*tch”.

He broke down the door, smacked her in the head and tried to strangle her, but fled the house before police arrived.

Days later, he was arrested but released on condition that he cut contact with the woman. He was rearrested in February for violating the condition of his release.

In March, the assault charge was resolved when he entered into a deferred prosecution agreement, whereby prosecutors agreed to drop the charges in exchange for him to complete certain requirements.

Flying with firearms is routine and legal in the US, as long as they are kept in a locked container as checked baggage only.

Ammunition is prohibited in carry-on bags, but is allowed in checked luggage.

The attack was the latest in a series of mass shootings that have plagued the US in recent years – some having been carried out by religious extremists, others by loners or the mentally disturbed.

The deadliest mass shooting in modern US history took place last June, when a gunman – apparently inspired by the IS – killed 49 people and wounded 53 at a gay nightclub in Orlando in Florida. – Staff reporter

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