Esteban Santiago, whom authorities have identified as the shooter in Friday’s attack at Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport, has been charged with performing an act of violence against a person at an airport, using a firearm in a crime of violence, and causing death with a firearm — three federal offenses punishable by death.
Santiago, 26, opened fire in a baggage claim area of the Florida airport, killing five people, according to law enforcement authorities. Family members have said that the Iraq War veteran had been struggling since his return from deployment.
Santiago has admitted to buying a one-way ticket from his home in Anchorage, Alaska, to Fort Lauderdale expressly to carry out the attack, the Miami Herald reported. Authorities aren’t sure why he picked the location. He’s currently being held in Broward County Jail, and is expected to make his first appearance at 11 a.m. Monday in federal court in Fort Lauderdale.
“Today’s charges represent the gravity of the situation and reflect the commitment of federal, state and local law enforcement personnel to continually protect the community and prosecute those who target our residents and visitors,” said U.S. Attorney Wifredo Ferrer.
The Guardian reports that authorities have interviewed close to 175 people in the wake of the shooting, including completing a long interrogation of Santiago. They have yet to pinpoint a motive.
“We have not identified any triggers that would have caused this attack,” George Piro, a special agent in charge of the FBI’s Miami bureau, said at a press conference. “We’re pursuing all angles on what prompted him to carry out this horrific attack.”
Authorities have not ruled out a link to terrorism. “We continue to look at all angles and motives and at this point we are continuing to look at the terrorism angle,” Piro said.
Santiago was accused of domestic violence in 2016. In November, he walked into an FBI office in Anchorage and said he was hearing voices urging him to violence. He also said his mind was being controlled by the CIA, which was forcing him to watch Islamic State videos.
The FBI then called local police, who sent Santiago for a psychiatric evaluation. They also took a gun Santiago had in his car where his newborn son waited strapped in a carseat, and a loaded magazine Santiago was carrying, the Miami Herald reported. Police returned his gun to him 31 days later.
Santiago checked a single bag for his trip — a hard case carrying his gun. He reportedly retrieved the 9mm semiautomatic handgun and loaded it in the bathroom. Then, he emerged and shot the first people he encountered, according to a an FBI affidavit supporting the charges again him cited by NBC.
Santiago fired up to 15 rounds, “aiming at victims’ heads,” the FBI said in its affidavit, ABC reported. Surveillance video supported witness statements that Santiago was “walking while shooting in a methodical manner,” the affidavit said.
Santiago then exited the baggage claim, walked outside and then re-entered. At that point, a sheriff’s deputy confronted him and Santiago dropped the weapon, its ammunition spent, the affidavit said.
Under TSA regulations, guns can be checked into baggage if they are stored in a locked, hard-sided container that cannot be easily accessed.
“That is absolutely something that I think we need to revisit,” Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.) said at a press conference Saturday. “We have revisited our security measures at airports every time we’ve had a security breach.”
Despite his troubled past, Santiago was not on a no-fly list.
Flights have resumed at the Fort Lauderdale airport, though the terminal where the shooting happened remained closed Saturday night.