|Esteban Ruiz Santiago|
Investigators say Florida airport shooting suspect Esteban Santiago told them he planned the carnage and purchased a one-way ticket to Fort Lauderdale to carry it out.
But it is still unclear why South Florida was targeted.
Federal prosecutors filed court documents Saturday detailing airport violence, gun and murder allegations against Santiago. If convicted, he could face the death penalty or life in federal prison, they said.
"Santiago fired approximately 10 to 15 rounds of ammunition from his firearm, aiming at his victims' heads. He was described as walking while shooting in a methodical manner," FBI Agent Michael Ferlazzo wrote in court records.
Five people died and six more suffered gunshot injuries.
"At one point, he exited the Terminal 2 baggage area [and went] onto the sidewalk and then re-entered, still carrying the handgun," agents wrote.
Moments later, a Broward County sheriff's deputy approached Santiago, who "dropped the handgun on the ground, in lock-back [mode], meaning that all the ammunition had been fired, and [he] dropped to the floor," investigators wrote.
They say Santiago told them he checked baggage that contained a Walther 9mm semiautomatic handgun and two magazines of ammunition. After claiming his baggage, he said he took it into a stall in the men's restroom, removed the gun, loaded it and put it in his waistband, authorities said.
"He then left the men's restroom and shot the first people he encountered," agents wrote. "Santiago emptied his first magazine, then reloaded and shot until the second magazine, too, was out of bullets. He believes he shot approximately 15 rounds before his arrest."
The shootings were apparently recorded by security video, which agents said corroborated Santiago's confession and witnesses' statements.
Santiago, 26, of Anchorage, is due to make his first appearance at 11 a.m. Monday in federal court in Fort Lauderdale.
He traveled nearly 5,000 miles from Alaska to Fort Lauderdale. But after interviewing Santiago for hours, investigators said they had no clear answer to the question: Why did he come to Fort Lauderdale?
"The early indication is that there was no specific reason why he chose Fort Lauderdale International Airport," said George L. Piro, the special agent in charge of the FBI in South Florida.
"Indications are he came here to carry out this horrific attack. We have not identified any triggers that would have caused this attack, but again it's very early in the investigation," Piro said.
It could be several days, or weeks, before formal charges are filed. Prosecutors will most likely seek an indictment by presenting their evidence to a federal grand jury in Fort Lauderdale.
At the initial hearing Monday in federal court, U.S. Magistrate Judge Alicia Valle will explain the allegations to Santiago. She will probably also appoint the Federal Public Defender's Office to represent Santiago, if he does not hire a private attorney.
Though state prosecutors in Florida frequently seek the death penalty, it is uncommon for federal prosecutors to pursue it.
Federal judges and jurors in Florida have only sentenced two men to federal death row since Congress reinstated the death penalty in 1988.
State prosecutors in Broward County could seek to file murder charges against Santiago separately because the shooting deaths occurred there.
The Broward State Attorney's Office is cooperating with federal prosecutors, and no decision on that has yet been made, a spokesman said Saturday.
Federal authorities say they are still investigating the motive for the attack and have not yet ruled out terrorism. They say Santiago was acting alone.
An Iraqi war veteran, Santiago sought out the FBI in Anchorage in November and was hospitalized for mental health treatment after what agents said was “erratic behavior," authorities said.
Anchorage police and the FBI confirmed Saturday that Santiago went to the FBI office in Anchorage seeking help Nov. 7. He was hospitalized for a mental health evaluation and a firearm he had left in his vehicle outside the office was temporarily taken from him.
The gun, which investigators said may or may not be the one used in the mass shooting at the airport in Fort Lauderdale, was returned to him by law enforcement on Dec. 8.
Despite reportedly being disturbed and delusional and having had incidents of reported domestic violence, Santiago was not on the government list of people prohibited from flying that was set up after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.
"During our initial investigation we found no ties to terrorism," said Marlin Ritzman, the agent in charge of the FBI's office in Anchorage. "He broke no laws when he came into our office making comments about mind control."
The FBI contacted the Anchorage Police Department, which transported Santiago to a mental health facility. The department took his weapon and "logged it into evidence for safekeeping," Police Chief Christopher Tolley said.
"Mr. Santiago had arrived at the FBI building asking for help," Tolley said. "Santiago was having terroristic thoughts and believed he was being influenced by ISIS,” an acronym for the Islamic State extremist group in the Middle East.
The FBI closed its assessment of Santiago after conducting database reviews and interagency checks.
"He was a walk-in complaint," Ritzman said. "This is something that happens at FBI offices around the country every day."
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Source: Los Angeles Times, Paula McMahon, Megan O'Matz, Deborah Ramirez, January 8, 2017
Florida airport gunman charged, US seeks death penalty
Esteban Santiago, 26, told investigators that he planned the attack, buying a one-way ticket to the Fort Lauderdale airport, a federal complaint said. Authorities don't know why he chose his target and have not ruled out terrorism.
Santiago was charged with an act of violence at an international airport resulting in death — which carries a maximum punishment of execution — and weapons charges.
"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," US Attorney Wifredo Ferrer said.
Authorities said during a news conference that they had interviewed roughly 175 people, including a lengthy interrogation with the cooperative suspect, a former National Guard soldier from Alaska. Flights had resumed at the Fort Lauderdale airport after the bloodshed, though the terminal where the shooting happened remained closed.
Santiago spoke to investigators for several hours after he opened fire with a Walther 9mm semi-automatic handgun that he appears to have legally checked on a flight from Alaska. He had two magazines with him and emptied both of them, firing about 15 rounds, before he was arrested, the complaint said.
"We have not identified any triggers that would have caused this attack. We're pursuing all angles on what prompted him to carry out this horrific attack," FBI Agent George Piro said.
Investigators are combing through social media and other information to determine Santiago's motive, and it's too early to say whether terrorism played a role, Piro said. In November, Santiago had walked into an FBI field office in Alaska saying the US government was controlling his mind and forcing him to watch Islamic State group videos, authorities said.
"He was a walk-in complaint. This is something that happens at FBI offices around the country every day," FBI agent Marlin Ritzman said.
On that day, Santiago had a loaded magazine on him, but had left a gun in his vehicle, along with his newborn child, authorities said. Officers seized the weapon and local officers took him to get a mental health evaluation. His girlfriend picked up the child.
On Dec. 8, the gun was returned to Santiago. Authorities wouldn't say if it was the same gun used in the airport attack.
Santiago had not been placed on the US no-fly list and appears to have acted alone, authorities said.
The attack sent panicked witnesses running out of the terminal and spilling onto the tarmac, baggage in hand. Others hid in bathroom stalls or crouched behind cars or anything else they could find as police and paramedics rushed in to help the wounded and establish whether there were any other gunmen.
Over the course of about 45 seconds, the shooter reloaded twice, he said. When he was out of bullets, he walked away, dropped the gun and lay face down, spread eagle on the floor, Lea said.
By that time, a deputy had arrived and grabbed the shooter. Lea put his foot on the gun to secure it.
Santiago had been discharged from the National Guard last year after being demoted for unsatisfactory performance. Bryan Santiago said Saturday that his brother had requested psychological help but received little assistance. Esteban Santiago said in August that he was hearing voices.
"How is it possible that the federal government knows, they hospitalize him for only four days, and then give him his weapon back?" Bryan Santiago said.
His mother declined to comment as she stood inside the screen door of the family home in Puerto Rico, wiping tears from her eyes. The only thing she said was that Esteban Santiago had been tremendously affected by seeing a bomb explode next to two of his friends when he was around 18 years old while serving in Iraq.
Santiago will make his first court appearance Monday.
It is legal for airline passengers to travel with guns and ammunition as long as the firearms are put in a checked bag — not a carry-on — and are unloaded and locked in a hard-sided container. Guns must be declared to the airline at check-in.
Despite his mental evaluation, US Attorney Karen Loeffler said Santiago would have been able to legally possess a gun because he had not been judged mentally ill, which is a high standard.
Santiago arrived in Fort Lauderdale after taking off from Anchorage aboard a Delta flight Thursday night, checking only one piece of luggage — his gun.
Source: The Associated Press, January 8, 2017
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