Fort Lauderdale Hoping To Reopen Airport After Shooting

Jan 7, 2017
Originally published on January 7, 2017 3:49 pm
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SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

The airport in Fort Lauderdale is open today, a day after the shooting that left five people dead and six wounded. The baggage claim at Terminal 2 is closed. That's where 26-year-old Esteban Santiago opened fire yesterday. He is a military veteran whom the FBI says had a history of mental health problems. He arrived on a plane from Alaska yesterday, removed his gun from a checked bag, loaded it in a bathroom and opened fire. NPR's Greg Allen joins us from the airport. Greg, thanks for being with us.

GREG ALLEN, BYLINE: Sure, Scott.

SIMON: What do we know about - I guess we still have to say the alleged shooter at this point.

ALLEN: That's right. Police arrested him yesterday without incident after he fired multiple shots in the baggage-claim area. But we know, as you said, he's a decorated military vet. He had service in Iraq. He grew up in Puerto Rico, served in the National Guard there and then also in Alaska.

He was actually discharged from the National Guard in Alaska last August for unsatisfactory performance, which included kind of going away without leave. And then later in the year in November, he walked into an FBI office in Anchorage. He told agents there that he thought the government was forcing him to watch ISIS videos. Here's something - here's a briefing we got last night on this from FBI Special Agent George Piro.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

GEORGE PIRO: At that time, he clearly stated that he did not intend to harm anyone. However, his erratic behavior concerned FBI agents that were interviewing him. And they contacted local police and turned him over to the local police. He was taken into custody by the local police and transported to a medical facility for a mental-health evaluation.

SIMON: Well, it certainly sounds as if the FBI acted responsibly. Obviously, this is going to be examined in the days and weeks ahead. Do authorities believe that he acted alone?

ALLEN: They do, Scott. At this point, there was some flurry yesterday when there - some thought there was a second shooter. That appeared not to be true. There was just one person shooting. Right now it's an investigation that's being led by the Broward Sheriff's Office here in Florida. And they're working with the FBI on this. They say they're not ruling out terrorism yet.

But if that is the case, the FBI will take the lead. So we'll have to see how this goes. But he's been - he was interrogated last night. They'll be talking to him today. He'll have a court appearance tomorrow. We'll be finding out much more about this in the days ahead.

SIMON: Greg, the Fort Lauderdale Airport is open today. How do things seem. How do passengers seem?

ALLEN: You know, surprisingly normal. Last night was crazy. It took several hours to get people off the planes and out of the airport. People didn't get out here until late last night. They reopened the airport this morning for flights in and out. As we said, everything's open except the baggage claim in Terminal 2.

But it is a little bit busier than usual because of all the backed-up flights. Some flights were cancelled. So we'll see how it goes. Governor Scott, our Florida governor, was here, talking to passengers. And he's around, reassuring people, trying to help them with their problems. He said he was at the hospital last night. His main priority is keeping Floridians and visitors safe here.

SIMON: NPR's Greg Allen at the Fort Lauderdale Airport. Greg, thanks so much for being with us.

ALLEN: You're welcome.

SIMON: And, of course, as we just heard, that shooting took place at baggage claim, which is outside the area secured by the TSA. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.