Fort Lauderdale airport shooter Esteban Santiago was a troubled man with a history of mental health issues, along with claims of connections to the ISIS terror group, plus possible involvement with the FBI, say media reports of his background.
As news about the 26-year-old man rolls out, evidence shows Esteban Santiago to be a veteran of both the Alaska National Guard and the Puerto Rico National Guard. But the reports also show a young man who apparently claimed to have heard voices in his head telling him to join terror group ISIS, who had been under psychiatric treatment, and who turned himself in to the FBI claiming the terror group was compelling him to act.
Santiago flew on a Friday Air Canada fight from Anchorage, Alaska, stopped over in Minneapolis, Minnesota, then deplaned in Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International airport. Then he walked to the baggage claim area, retrieved a gun he was legally transporting in his luggage, loaded it in a bathroom and emerged firing randomly at anyone who was near him.
Once he ran out of ammunition, he reportedly sat down on the floor and awaited authorities to take him away.
When the smoke cleared 13 people were wounded and five killed. Santiago was then taken into custody without further incident and carted away. Hundreds of people were terrorized and the airport was completely shut down as a result of his rampage.
The site of the unexpected attack was a “gun-free zone” in a state that bans concealed carry for everyone in airports so there was no possibility of anyone being able to stop the shooter with any measure of quick response.
Now we know some details of Santiago’s life, although not exactly why he would commit this terrible act.
— Daily Mail US (@DailyMail) January 6, 2017
Santiago is a former U.S. Army Reservist who served in Alaska and was born in New Jersey, according to NBC News.
Fox Affiliate WSVN in Miami reported that the gunman’s brother, identified as Bryan, said that Esteban had been under a psychiatrist’s care when he lived in Alaska. The brother could not confirm exactly what Esteban was being treated for.
We're told this is the gun used by the shooter at Ft Lauderdale airport (Photo courtesy: Mark Lea) pic.twitter.com/oENsB9MP5J
— WSVN 7 News (@wsvn) January 6, 2017
Santiago was also known to the FBI, though ABC and CBS News have conflicting accounts of his dealings with the Bureau in Alaska.
On Friday afternoon, CBS reported that Santiago had turned himself in to the FBI’s Anchorage office telling agents he had been “forced to fight for ISIS.” But ABC News had a further detail claiming that his delusion was even stronger. ABC insisted its source told them that Santiago had told the FBI that the U.S. government had forced him to watch ISIS videos and made him associate with ISIS.
The shooter is said to have turned himself in to the FBI in November or 2016 and was hospitalized in a psychiatric facility soon afterward.
Records show he is an American citizen born in Union City, New Jersey and when he was two years old moved with his family to Puerto Rico. He later lived in Anchorage, Alaska, and Naples, Florida.
Maj. Paul Dahlen, a spokesman for the Puerto Rico National Guard, told the Associated Press that Santiago had been deployed to Iraq in 2010 and spent a year-long tour with the 130th Engineer Battalion, the 1013th engineer company out of Aguadilla, Puerto Rico. He had entered the Puerto Rico National Guard back in 2007, served in the reserves starting in 2011, and in 2014 joined the Alaska NG.
The airport killer was discharged by the Alaska National Guard in 2016 for unsatisfactory performance, according to the AP.
Speaking to a likely troubled military career, by the time of his discharge Santiago was still a private first class despite some nine years in service.
— Kristina Webb (@KristinaWebb) January 6, 2017
Family members said Santiago seemed to be struggling after his return from Iraq.
Santiago's aunt speaking to Telemundo: Esteban went to Iraq. When he came back he wasn't doing well. Then 6 months later, his dad died.
— princess lia (@MariaLiaCalvo) January 6, 2017
Santiago also had a police record.
“Alaskan court records show an Esteban Santiago with the same date of birth was charged with two misdemeanors last year; one count was dismissed and Santiago was due back in court on the second this coming March,” NBC Washington reported on Friday.
There is sure to be more information coming in the hours and days ahead.
Editor’s note: This story has been updated to clarify that concealed carry is banned in airports in Florida.
Follow Warner Todd Huston on Twitter @warnerthuston or email the author at firstname.lastname@example.org.