Fort Lauderdale, FL - The lone suspect in the Fort Lauderdale airport shooting, Esteban Santiago, had possible ties to terrorism, and was known to the FBI. Upon arrival at the Fort Lauderdale Airport yesterday, Friday, January 6, 2017, he calmly took a 9mm handgun out of his baggage, loaded it, and shot 11 people at a baggage claim area.
Five of those shot have died, and almost 40 others were injured with sprains, bruises, and broken bones as a result of the chaos and rushed evacuation. Of the six who were wounded, three are in intensive care and three are in good condition.
According to Fox News, the FBI has interviewed Esteban Santiago, age 26, for hours, and determined that he flew to Ft. Lauderdale specifically to carry out the horrific attack. He was not on a 'no-fly ' list. Santiago did have a history of mental health problems, some of which occurred after his military service in Iraq. His relatives said that he had been receiving mental health treatment in Alaska, where he was living.
Esteban Santiago deployed in 2010 with the Puerto Rico National Guard and was sent to Iraq for a year with an Engineering battalion. In recent years, he had been living in Alaska with his girlfriend and had recently became a father. He was working in Alaska as a security guard. In November, 2016, Santiago went to FBI agents in Alaska and told them that he was hearing voices, and that the government was controlling his mind and forcing him to watch ISIS videos. After the interview, the FBI notified local police, who took him in to be mentally evaluated.
He was born in New Jersey but raised in Puerto Rico and joined the National Guard there in 2007. While Esteban Santiago was deployed to Iraq, he cleared roads of IEDs and was awarded a Meritorious Unit commendation. He was also awarded the Iraq Campaign Medal and the Global War on Terrorism Service Medal.
At least two soldiers that he served with were killed in combat. Since his return from Iraq, Esteban Santiago had been serving in the Army Reserves and the Alaska National Guard. He was discharged early from the National Guard for "unsatisfactory performance." The Pentagon has said in a statement that Santiago went AWOL numerous times, was demoted and then discharged.
Esteban Santiago flew from Anchorage to Minneapolis to Fort Lauderdale on a Delta flight Friday and had checked only one piece of luggage: his gun. In January, 2016, he was charged in a domestic violence incident involving his girlfriend, where he forced his way into a bathroom where she was hiding, choked her, and struck her on the side of her head. He violated the conditions of his release when he was found living with her a month later. It is not known what the disposition of that charge was.
He is being held without bond on a murder charge and federal charges are pending. The FBI's investigation is ongoing and includes reviewing airport surveillance video plus interviews of his family, friends, and others. He is reported to be cooperating with FBI agents. According to the FBI, terrorism has not been ruled out as a possible motive. The FBI is also investigating an unconfirmed report that there was an altercation on one of his flights that he was involved in prior to landing at the Fort Lauderdale airport.
The Fort Lauderdale airport was closed for the rest of the day and has since re-opened. Almost a third of scheduled flights were either cancelled or re-directed. Some passengers were stuck on planes for hours until the scene was secured and almost 10,000 passengers were taken to a different terminal.
The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) prohibits guns in carry-on bags but allows them in checked luggage if they are declared, unloaded, and put in a hard-sided, locked container that only the owner has the ability to unlock. Explosive or flammable ammunition such as gun powder is banned, but bullets are legal if carried in checked baggage.
According to NBC News, Jeffrey Price, an aviation-security expert who teaches at Metropolitan State University of Denver, said that "banning guns in luggage might have prevented Friday's attack but wouldn't stop a determined killer. What's to stop him from driving to the airport, parking his car, getting his gun and going into the airport and shooting people?" The TSA does not track the number of guns that passengers place in checked bags and most airlines detail their gun-carrying policies on their websites.
Price also said that "passengers wishing to check guns must declare them and show that they are unloaded, and that airlines often have the gun inspected by TSA officers in another part of the airport." He said "It's enough of an inconvenience that he tells hunters to mail or use a delivery service to ship the gun to their destination." The FBI has not yet disclosed where Esteban Santiago got the firearm. It would not be uncommon for a former military veteran to possess one or more guns, although most domestic violence laws prevent their possession.
Florida law does not allow guns in airport terminals, including those possessed by individuals with concealed carry permits. It is legal for a person to possess a firearm at an airport terminal only if it is encased for travel. Law-abiding Floridian citizens with concealed carry licenses were not allowed to possess their guns on their persons for self-defense while at the baggage claim where the January 6 attack occurred. The Crime Prevention Center said that "Florida is one of only six states that completely ban concealed carry at airports.”
Sean Caranna, of Florida Carry Inc., said "Once again a murderer has chosen a so-called 'gun free zone' to indiscriminately kill innocent people. Thankfully law enforcement was able to respond quickly, but tragically not before multiple victims were murdered. Florida Rep. Raburn (R-57) and Sen. Greg Steube (R-23) have each filed separate legislation this year to allow for lawful defensive carry in the non-secure areas of airport terminals. This cowardly and tragic act is further proof that people need the ability to defend themselves wherever they peacefully go."
We send our thoughts and prayers to the families of those who died, to those who were injured and their families, and to all who were at the Fort Lauderdale Airport when this incident occurred. We thank all of the many law enforcement officers who immediately responded and prevented further tragedy from happening. While this is a tragic incident, it is not gun laws that need to be changed, unless it is to allow those with valid concealed carry permits to carry inside a terminal. If a shooter such as Esteban Santiago is determined to kill, he will find a way to make it happen.
Do you think that there needs to be a change to gun laws in airports? Let us know in the comments below.