Gun Was Given Back To Florida Shooting Suspect Last Month

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Iraq war veteran Esteban Santiago is accused of killing five after he opened fire in a crowded baggage claim area at Ft. Lauderdale airport, Florida.

Update - Jan 7th:

Police in Alaska said on Saturday they had returned a handgun to the Florida airport shooting suspect which was temporarily taken from him when he underwent a mental evaluation late last year.

Anchorage Police Chief Christopher Tolley said it was not immediately clear if it was the same gun used in Friday's deadly rampage in Fort Lauderdale. Officials told a news conference the gun was returned to the suspect, Esteban Santiago, 26, because the Iraq war veteran had not committed a crime.

Esteban Santiago

Santiago was sent for a mental evaluation after telling Federal Bureau of Investigation agents he heard voices and thought he was being controlled by a U.S. intelligence agency.


An Iraq war veteran took a gun out of his checked luggage and opened fire in a crowded baggage claim area at Fort Lauderdale's airport on Friday, killing five people, months after he showed up at an FBI office behaving erratically.

Esteban Santiago, 26, who was taken into custody immediately following the shooting and questioned at length, was expected to face federal charges in the shooting rampage, said George Piro, special agent in charge of the Federal Bureau of Investigation's office in Miami.

Piro said investigators had not ruled out terrorism as a possible motive in the rampage and were reviewing the suspect's recent travel.

Santiago, who had served in the U.S. military, had arrived in Ft. Lauderdale shortly before 1 p.m. local time (1800 GMT) on a connecting flight from Alaska, authorities said, when he retrieved a 9mm semi-automatic handgun from his checked luggage and began firing indiscriminately.

Law enforcement officer

Broward County Commissioner Chip LaMarca said on Twitter that the gunman went into a restroom to load his weapon and came out firing. Witnesses told MSNBC television he only stopped after running out of ammunition, at which point he surrendered to police.

Cellphone video posted on social media showed travelers kneeling and treating victims on the floor next to a carousel. At least two victims had pools of blood from apparent head wounds.

The gunman, who wore a "Star Wars" T-shirt, said nothing as he fired, witnesses told MSNBC.

"This is a senseless act of evil," Florida Governor Rick Scott told reporters.

A White House spokesman said President Barack Obama had spoken to Scott and Broward County Mayor Barbara Sharief and had extended his condolences to the loved ones of the victims.

In addition to the five killed, eight others were wounded by gunfire and some three dozen were taken to local hospitals with bruises or broken bones suffered in the chaos surrounding the shooting massacre.

Piro said that Santiago had turned up at an FBI office in Anchorage in November of last year behaving erratically and was turned over to local police, who took him to a medical facility for a mental evaluation.

A federal law enforcement official told Reuters that Santiago told agents at the Anchorage office in November that his mind was being controlled by a U.S. intelligence agency, which was ordering him to watch Islamic State videos.

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, according to the Pentagon.

A private first class and combat engineer, he received half a dozen medals before being transferred to the inactive ready reserve in August last year.

An aunt said he came back from his deployment "a different person," MSNBC reported.

LEGAL TO FLY WITH GUNS

Flying with firearms is routine and legal in the United States as long as the guns are kept in a locked, hard-sided container as checked baggage only, under TSA rules. 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 United States in recent years, some inspired by militants with an extreme view of Islam, others carried out by loners or the mentally disturbed.

shooting incident at Fort Lauderdale

John Schlicher, who told MSNBC he saw the attack, said the shooter was "directly firing at us" while passengers waited for their bags. His wife gave first aid to a victim who had been shot in the head, and his mother-in-law used her sweater to tend to another victim but it turned out that person was already dead, he said.

Mark Lea, another eyewitness, told MSNBC, "He didn't say anything; he was quiet the whole time."

Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport is the second largest in South Florida, serving as an intercontinental gateway.

Nearly two months ago a former Southwest Airlines worker killed an employee of the company at Oklahoma City's airport in what police called a premeditated act.

The deadliest mass shooting in modern U.S. history took place last June, when a gunman apparently inspired by Islamic State killed 49 people and wounded 53 at a gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida.


Five people died and eight were wounded, Broward County Sheriff Scott Israel told reporters at the airport, where air traffic was shut down.

International Airport in Fort Lauderdale

The gunman had arrived on a flight with a checked gun in his bag, Broward County Commissioner Chip LaMarca said on Twitter. The shooter claimed his bag and went to the bathroom to load the gun before coming out and firing, LaMarca said.

Cellphone video posted on social media showed victims on the floor next to a carousel, with people on their knees attempting to provide aid. At least two victims had pools of blood from apparent head wounds.

The shooter was unharmed as law enforcement officers never fired a shot, Israel said, adding it was too early to assign a motive.

"At this point, it looks like he acted alone," Israel said.

Nonetheless, he said "this scene is considered fluid and active" as police searched the airport.

The shooter was identified as Esteban Santiago, 26, and had a U.S. military identification, according to a spokesman for U.S. Senator Bill Nelson of Florida, who spoke with officials at the Transportation Security Administration.

A 26-year-old by the name of Esteban Santiago was honorably discharged from the Army National Guard last year and served in Iraq, a U.S. official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

The shooter, who wore a "Star Wars" T-shirt, said nothing as he fired, witnesses told MSNBC. He appeared to use a 9 mm handgun, which he tossed aside upon running out of ammunition, surrendering to police, MSNBC reported.

The attack was the latest in a series of mass shootings that have plagued the United States in recent years, some inspired by militants with an extreme view of Islam, others carried out by loners or the mentally disturbed who have easy access to weapons under U.S. gun laws.

About 90 minutes after the attack, panic broke out anew with passengers and police running frantically about at a separate terminal, but Israel said there were no other reports of shots being fired.

John Schlicher, who told MSNBC he saw the attack, described the shooter as a slender man who was "directly firing at us" while passengers waited for their bags.

"I put my head down and prayed," Schlicher said, adding that his wife gave first aid to someone who had been shot in the head. His mother-in-law used her sweater to tend to another victim but it turned out that person was already dead, he said.

Mark Lea, another eyewitness, told MSNBC "there was no rhyme or reason to it."

"He didn't say anything, he was quiet the whole time, he didn't yell anything," Lea said.

Security officials corralled dozens of passengers in several groups.

Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport is the second largest in South Florida, serving as an intercontinental gateway, with Miami International Airport known as the primary airport for international flights in the area.

HISTORY OF SHOOTINGS

Nearly two months ago a former Southwest Airlines worker killed an employee of the company at Oklahoma City's airport in what police called a premeditated act.

The deadliest mass shooting in modern U.S. history took place last June, when a gunman apparently inspired by Islamic State killed 49 people and wounded 53 at a gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida.

One of the most shocking was in 2012, when a man entered an elementary school in Newtown, Connecticut, and shot dead 20 first-graders and six adults.

Attackers have exploited security officials' focus on preventing attacks on airplanes rather than inside airports. In Western Europe and the United States, terminals are easily accessible public spaces.

But at Israel's Ben Gurion Airport, widely seen as a model for security, private companies trained by the national security agency use bomb-detectors, profile passengers and question travelers under the watch of police at the airport's entrance.

Banner Image Credit: Reuters

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