Florida shooting suspect could face death penalty

Federal agents in Alaska say they took a handgun from Florida airport shooter Esteban Santiago in November after he told them his mind was being controlled by US intelligence agents, but returned it to him last month.
Santiago, 26, was charged with firearms offences and carrying out an act of violence when he opened fire at the busy Fort Lauderdale airport.
Santiago, 26, was charged with firearms offences and carrying out an act of violence when he opened fire at the busy Fort Lauderdale airport.

MIAMI • Iraq war veteran Esteban Santiago, 26, accused of shooting five people dead in a Florida airport rampage, has been charged and could face the death penalty.

The Justice Department charged Santiago on Saturday with firearms offences and carrying out an act of violence when he opened fire at the busy Fort Lauderdale airport.

According to court papers, Santiago told agents he planned the attack and bought a one-way ticket from Anchorage to Florida. He is scheduled to appear in court today.

United States prosecutors said he could face the death penalty or life in prison, if convicted of the charges.

At baggage claim on Friday, he retrieved a 9mm semi-automatic handgun and ammunition that he had declared and stowed inside his checked luggage, then allegedly loaded the weapon in a bathroom and opened fire in the crowded baggage claim area of Terminal 2.

The hail of bullets also wounded six people and sent thousands scrambling for safety, shutting down the airport.

Once his ammunition was exhausted, he lay on the floor with his arms and legs spread out and peacefully surrendered, US media reports quoted witnesses as saying.

Santiago, a private first class and combat engineer, served from 2007 to 2016 in the National Guard, including a deployment to Iraq from 2010 to 2011, according to the Pentagon.

An aunt said he returned from the Iraq tour "a different person", MSNBC reported.

He was transferred to the inactive ready reserve last August.

On Nov 7, he walked into the FBI's office in Anchorage with a loaded magazine, but left his gun and newborn child in his car. He complained to agents that his mind was being controlled by national intelligence agencies.

Agents turned him over to local police, who sent him for a mental evaluation. Police took his weapon for safekeeping but returned it on Dec 8 after he was found not to be mentally ill.

Santiago's brother Bryan criticised the way the authorities handled his case.

"They had him hospitalised for four days and they let him go. How are you going to let someone leave a psychological centre after four days when he said he hears voices that the CIA is telling him to join certain groups?" he told CNN, in a Spanish-language interview the network translated into English.

The shooting renewed anxieties about security at US airports.

The Transportation Security Administration, which is responsible for airport security, lets passengers travel with unloaded firearms and ammunition as checked baggage.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 09, 2017, with the headline 'Florida shooting suspect could face death penalty'. Print Edition | Subscribe