The man who killed five people and injured six during a shooting rampage on Friday in Florida’s Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport has been charged and could face the death penalty.
Esteban Santiago was charged with an act of violence at an international airport resulting in death, which carries the death penalty, and weapons offences.
Authorities have found no evidence during preliminary inquiries that 26-year-old Santiago was working with anybody else when he took out a pistol from his checked luggage and fired two clips of ammunition at passengers in the baggage claim area of the airport’s Terminal 2.
It has since been revealed that Santiago walked into an Alaskan FBI office in November and claimed his mind was being controlled by US intelligence agencies.His agitated and incoherent state rompted FBI agents to notify authorities, take the gun and order a mental health assessment.
But CNN reported he wasn’t considered disturbed enough to be prevented under Alaskan law from owning a gun and it was returned to him a month later. The news channel said this was the 9mm Walther pistol that was used to shoot the 11 people at the airport on Friday.
Santiago, a veteran of Iraq, has reportedly confessed to planning the attack but has yet to reveal why.
He bought a one-way ticket to Fort Lauderdale and loaded the gun in a toilet stall. US federal prosecutors said he shot the first people he saw, aiming at their heads.
"Once he finished shooting, he walked down by Door 2, threw his gun on the ground, and laid down on the ground, spread-eagle, until the first officer came — which was probably a minute later," witness Mark Lea told MSNBC. "He was not shot at all, was not wounded."
Fort Lauderdale is serviced by about 30 airlines and is a popular destination because of the nearby cruise terminals. It services about 73,000 passengers a day.
Delta chief executive Ed Bastian, whose airline operates from terminal 2, expressed gratitude to first responders “who immediately went into action to evacuate our customers and employees’’.
“The thoughts and prayers of the entire Delta family are with the people of Fort Lauderdale and Broward County, and those involved in the tragic events today,” Bastian said.
Delta, which cancelled all flights to Fort Lauderdale on Friday, issued a waiver for customers travelling to and from Fort Lauderdale to change their travel plans free of charge.
Terminal 2 also remained closed on Saturday due to the ongoing investigation.
The shooting exposes a possible loophole in US security procedures as the baggage claim was outside the security perimeter at the airport.