A sense­less act of evil

Fort Laud­erdale shooter re­turned from serv­ing in Iraq ‘a dif­fer­ent per­son’

CityPress - - News -

When the Alaska Army Na­tional Guard in the US gave Este­ban San­ti­ago a gen­eral dis­charge last year for un­sat­is­fac­tory per­for­mance, af­ter two years in ser­vice, he was an ex­pec­tant fa­ther. His child was born in Septem­ber. Two months later, San­ti­ago vis­ited the FBI in An­chor­age in Alaska, where he un­leashed sev­eral con­spir­acy the­o­ries. Among his many sto­ries, he claimed he was hear­ing voices in his head and that the CIA was con­trol­ling him to watch videos of the Is­lamic State (IS) and join the ter­ror­ist or­gan­i­sa­tion.

He also told the FBI that he did not want to harm any­one. This prompted the agents to re­fer him to lo­cal po­lice, who took San­ti­ago to hos­pi­tal for a men­tal checkup. Af­ter sev­eral checks and FBI agents look­ing into his “con­tacts”, the in­ves­ti­ga­tion was closed.

On Fri­day, San­ti­ago trav­elled to Florida from Alaska with other pas­sen­gers. He even booked in his firearm. Wit­nesses said he was in­volved in an al­ter­ca­tion on the flight, but the in­ci­dent was not se­ri­ous enough for him to be stopped when the plane landed at Fort Laud­erdaleHol­ly­wood In­ter­na­tional Air­port in Florida.

Upon land­ing, San­ti­ago col­lected his bag and weapon and went to the bath­room, where he loaded his gun. He then re­turned to the bag­gage claim area, where he ran­domly opened fire on pas­sen­gers, po­lice said.

Five pas­sen­gers were killed and eight more in­jured be­fore San­ti­ago put the weapon down and sur­ren­dered to po­lice. It is un­clear whether he had run out of bul­lets or was reload­ing when the ar­rest was made. He ut­tered no words dur­ing the shoot­ing spree, nor did he take any of the pas­sen­gers hostage. He wore a Star Wars T-shirt.

“This is a sense­less act of evil,” Florida gover­nor Rick Scott told re­porters.

A White House spokesper­son said Pres­i­dent Barack Obama had ex­tended his con­do­lences to the vic­tims’ fam­i­lies and had spo­ken to Scott and Barbara Sharief, the mayor of Broward County, where Fort Laud­erdale is lo­cated.

On Fri­day, San­ti­ago was booked into Broward County Jail. He is ex­pected to face nu­mer­ous mur­der charges and is likely to ap­pear in court to­mor­row.

As au­thor­i­ties try to find out what prompted the shoot­ing, more in­for­ma­tion is emerg­ing of the 26-year-old gun­man.

Born in 1990 in New Jer­sey to Puerto Ri­can parents, San­ti­ago’s fam­ily re­lo­cated back to Puerto Rico when he was two years old. He grew up in the south­ern coastal town of Peñue­las and joined the Puerto Rico Na­tional Guard in 2007. He was de­ployed to Iraq in 2010 as a com­bat en­gi­neer. A year later, he re­turned to the US.

In 2014, he joined the Alaska Na­tional Guard – a post he held un­til he was dis­charged four months ago. His brother, Bryan, de­scribed San­ti­ago as “pro-Amer­i­can” and spir­i­tual.

His aunt said San­ti­ago came back from his de­ploy­ment to Iraq “a dif­fer­ent per­son”.

Be­sides mi­nor traf­fic trans­gres­sions, San­ti­ago’s other brush with the law oc­curred last year, when he ver­bally as­saulted his then girl­friend through a locked bath­room door, telling her to “get the fuck out, b*tch”. He broke down the door, smacked her in the head and tried to stran­gle her, but fled the house be­fore po­lice ar­rived. Days later, he was ar­rested but re­leased on con­di­tion that he cut con­tact with the woman. He was re­ar­rested in Fe­bru­ary for vi­o­lat­ing the con­di­tion of his re­lease.

In March, the as­sault charge was re­solved when he en­tered into a de­ferred pros­e­cu­tion agree­ment, whereby prose­cu­tors agreed to drop the charges in ex­change for him to com­plete cer­tain re­quire­ments.

Fly­ing with firearms is rou­tine and le­gal in the US, as long as they are kept in a locked con­tainer as checked bag­gage only. 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 US in re­cent years – some hav­ing been car­ried out by reli­gious ex­trem­ists, oth­ers by lon­ers or the men­tally dis­turbed.

The dead­li­est mass shoot­ing in mod­ern US his­tory took place last June, when a gun­man – ap­par­ently in­spired by the IS – killed 49 peo­ple and wounded 53 at a gay night­club in Or­lando in Florida.

– Staff re­porter

PHOTO: EPA / BROWARD COUNTY SHER­IFF

KILLER Este­ban San­ti­ago in cus­tody fol­low­ing his shoot­ing spree at a Fort Laud­erdale air­port in Florida

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