Fort Lauderdale airport shooting
|2017 Fort Lauderdale airport shooting|
|Location||Terminal 2, Fort Lauderdale–Hollywood International Airport, Broward County, Florida, United States|
January 6, 2017 |
12:55 p.m. (EST)
|Weapons||Walther PPS 9mm semi-automatic pistol|
|± 42 (6 gunshot victims, around 36 with other injuries)|
A mass shooting occurred at Fort Lauderdale–Hollywood International Airport in Broward County, Florida, United States, on January 6, 2017, near the baggage claim in Terminal 2. Five people were killed while six others were injured in the shooting. About 36 people sustained injuries in the ensuing panic. Esteban Santiago-Ruiz, who committed the shooting, was taken into custody within 90 seconds after he started shooting, surrendering to responding sheriff's deputies. He was later diagnosed with schizophrenia and pleaded guilty.
The shooter opened fire with a Walther PPS 9mm semi-automatic pistol in the airport at about 12:53 p.m. EST, in the baggage claim area of Terminal 2, which is the host terminal for Delta Air Lines and Air Canada. Video showed travelers rushing out of the airport and hundreds of people waiting on the tarmac as numerous law enforcement officers rushed to the scene. Part of the panic occurred following "unfounded reports of additional gunshots"; the false alarm touched off a brief panic in other terminals. Former White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer tweeted from the airport, "Shots have been fired. Everyone is running."
The shooting lasted about 70 to 80 seconds. The suspect lay down on the ground after he stopped shooting, having run out of ammunition. Broward County Sheriff Scott Israel stated that law enforcement officers did not fire shots and that the gunman was arrested without further incident.
The Federal Aviation Administration issued a ground stop notice, closing the airport to all but emergency flights. Port Everglades, staffed by American Red Cross, assisted about 10,000 passengers who were bused there for food, shelter and to connect to transportation. The airport remained closed for the remainder of the day, but reopened to commercial flights early the following day. Following the shooting, more than 20,000 pieces of baggage were left at the airport amid the chaos. Seth Martin and other passengers were contacted by the FBI as a result of the shooting.
President Barack Obama was briefed about the shooting by Assistant to the President for Homeland Security and Counterterrorism Lisa Monaco. Then-president-elect Donald Trump tweeted that he was monitoring the situation and that he had spoken with Florida Governor Rick Scott regarding the shooting. President Obama later consoled the victims and stated that he had asked his staff to reach out to Mayor Jack Seiler in order to make sure efforts were coordinated between state and local officials. Scott ordered flags of the United States and of Florida to be flown at half-mast throughout the state on January 7 and 8 to honor the victims.
Five people died in the attack, all of whom were passing through Fort Lauderdale to begin cruises with their spouses. The number of people injured due to the shooting was six, with three admitted to intensive care units. The sheriff said that in addition to the people injured by gunshots, about 30 to 40 others were "injured in the panic" during the event.
Broward County Sheriff's Office mugshot
March 16, 1990|
Union City, New Jersey, U.S.
Santiago flew on a Delta Air Lines flight from Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport in Alaska, connecting through Minneapolis–Saint Paul International Airport. Investigators say that he declared a 9mm pistol with two magazines, locked in a secure container, his only checked baggage. He retrieved it in Fort Lauderdale and loaded the gun in the airport bathroom just before the attack. Santiago was reported to be carrying military identification at the time of the shooting.
Santiago was born in New Jersey in 1990 and moved to Puerto Rico two years later. He lived most of his life in Peñuelas, Puerto Rico, and attended high school there. He joined the Puerto Rico National Guard on December 14, 2007, and served in the Iraq War from April 23, 2010, to February 19, 2011, as a combat engineer. He later served in the Alaska Army National Guard from November 21, 2014, until receiving a general discharge in August 2016 for "unsatisfactory performance." He was a private first class and received ten awards during his time in the military. According to his family members, he had become mentally ill after his tour in Iraq and was severely affected by seeing a bomb explode near two of his friends while in service. They also stated he had recently received psychological treatment, which was confirmed by federal officials.
The Puerto Rico Police opened an investigation into his errant behavior and confiscated his firearms in March 2012. They were, however, returned to him in May 2014. He also obtained a Florida driver's license in August 2012 even though he never lived in Florida, per official records. He provided the license on his successful application for permission to carry a concealed gun in Puerto Rico. He later moved from Puerto Rico to Alaska, along with his brother, in the same year.
While in Alaska, Santiago worked as a security guard for a private company, where he was described as being "quiet and solitary." He became increasingly violent over the following year. In January 2016, Santiago was arrested and charged with assault in an incident involving his girlfriend in Anchorage, Alaska. Police alleged that Santiago yelled at her, broke down the door, and choked her. The case resulted in a deferred prosecution agreement, and a domestic violence temporary protection order had expired.
Santiago visited the FBI field office in Anchorage in November 2016 and reported that the U.S. government was controlling his mind, was making him watch videos by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant and that the CIA was forcing him to join the group. He stated that he was hearing voices in his head telling him to commit acts of violence, but he also said that he was in control and did not intend to hurt anyone. The FBI urged the man to seek mental health treatment and notified the local police who detained him and took him to a medical facility for a mental health evaluation. He was later investigated by the FBI, which discovered no links to terrorism or any violation of laws occurring during the Alaska incident. Alaska police took his handgun from him due to the incident, holding it for twenty nine days, but returned it in December because Santiago had not been convicted of a serious crime, involuntarily committed to a mental institution, or adjudicated as mentally defective. His weapon was not seized by the FBI, nor was he prevented from checking it for a flight, according to Karen Loeffler, the Alaska U.S. Attorney. She said federal law requires someone to be “adjudicated” as mentally ill before they can be kept from flying with a firearm. “This is not somebody that would have been prohibited, based on the information that they had,” she said of the Anchorage Police Department and the F.B.I. “We’re a country of laws, and they operate within them.” He had also been dismissed as a security guard at Signal 88 Security on November 15, due to his mental health problems.
Santiago was identified by multiple law agencies as the only suspect, having fired a semi-automatic 9mm handgun at people in the baggage claim in Terminal 2. Per court documents and a federal affidavit, Santiago admitted to planning the attack, buying a one-way ticket to the airport and checking a box with a Walther 9mm semiautomatic handgun and the two ammunition magazines he used in the shooting. He stated that he later loaded his handgun in a bathroom at the airport and "shot the first people he encountered" after coming out.
The suspect made a flight reservation to New York City, New York for December 31, 2016, which officials told ABC News might have been his preferred destination. However, he canceled the reservation, and investigators believe that the deployment of a large number of NYPD officers may have been the reason he did so. He booked a one-way ticket to Florida a few days later. Counterterrorism officials in New York meanwhile investigated his plan to visit the city and whether he planned to stay or transfer to another flight. The FBI stated that he appeared to have arrived in the city specifically to carry out the shooting. Investigators found no specific reason why he chose the airport, nor had they determined a motive.
The Qupqugiaq Inn, a motel in midtown Anchorage, was evacuated and searched on the day of the shooting as part of the investigation into the suspect. He had recently been a resident of the Qupqugiaq Inn, which offers monthly rentals. The FBI used a flatbed tow truck to seize the motel's dumpster, which was searched at their Anchorage field office. They conducted interviews with 175 witnesses and people who knew Santiago. According to government officials, Santiago had not been flagged for significant foreign travel or possible terrorism ties. However, they did not rule out terrorism as a possible motive, with the police investigating whether or not he was a homegrown terrorist or mentally disturbed.
TMZ released a leaked video of the shooting on January 8 which led to the launch of an investigation into the leak. A Broward Sheriff's Office deputy, identified as the individual who leaked the video, was put on paid suspension pending investigation.
Investigators stated that during initial interviews, the suspect said that he had been under "government mind control" and "hearing voices" and that he had been "participating in jihadi chat rooms online" before the attack. Later in April 2017, the investigators stated that no link to terrorism was found. During interviews with police after the attack, Santiago also stated that the gun used in the shooting was the same weapon seized and later returned by the police in Anchorage in 2016.
The day after the shooting, federal officials filed criminal charges against him including performing an act of violence at an international airport, using and carrying a firearm during and in relation to a crime of violence and causing the death of a person through use of a firearm.
A federal public defender was appointed for Santiago since he was unable to pay for a lawyer. He was ordered detained without bond, and was indicted on 22 federal charges on January 26. He pleaded not guilty to all the charges during a court hearing on January 30, 2017.
After his arrest, Santiago was diagnosed with schizophrenia as well as schizoaffective disorder. He initially refused to take psychotropic medication, but later took medications, and his mental condition showed marked improvement. He was deemed legally competent to stand trial. Before trial, Santiago's attorneys and federal prosecutors made a plea agreement in which Santiago would plead guilty in return for a sentence of life in prison, avoiding the death penalty, which federal prosecutors had originally considered pursuing. On May 23, 2018, Santiago pleaded guilty in the shooting.
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