The Latest: Fort Lauderdale, Fla., Shooting Suspect

Jan 8, 2017
Originally published on January 8, 2017 3:07 pm
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LOURDES GARCIA-NAVARRO, HOST:

Charges have been filed against the man accused of carrying out a deadly shooting spree at Fort Lauderdale Airport Friday. Esteban Santiago killed five people and injured another six at the baggage claim area. If convicted, he could see the death penalty. Santiago is a former National Guard soldier from Alaska. And as NPR's Brakkton Booker reports, he had quite a few encounters with Alaska law enforcement in the past year and a brief stay at a mental facility.

BRAKKTON BOOKER, BYLINE: At a press conference, Alaska law enforcement officials rattled off a list of run-ins Esteban Santiago had with them starting last January. The most curious, though, came in early November. That's when Santiago walked into an FBI building in Anchorage. Police were eventually called because of what has been described as Santiago's, quote, "erratic behavior."

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CHRISTOPHER TOLLEY: When APD arrived on scene they were formed by investigating agents Mr. Santiago had arrived at the FBI building asking for help. Santiago was having terroristic thoughts and believed he was being influenced by ISIS.

BOOKER: That's Christopher Tolley, the Anchorage police chief. He also says Santiago had a loaded gun but left it in his vehicle prior to contacting agents.

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TOLLEY: Based on the statements made to the agents on scene and their own contact with Santiago, APD transported him to a mental health facility, where he was admitted.

BOOKER: The gun was held in police possession while he was being evaluated. Santiago was released a few weeks later, but his gun was not given back immediately. Again, Police Chief Tolley.

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TOLLEY: On December 8, the weapon was released to Santiago.

BOOKER: Authorities would not confirm whether it was the same weapon he used at the Florida airport. Karen Loeffler, the U.S. attorney for the District of Alaska, says despite Santiago's stint in the mental facility there was nothing preventing him from having a gun.

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KAREN LOEFFLER: There is a federal law with regard to having a gun by somebody who is mentally ill, but the law requires that the person be, quote, "adjudicated mentally ill," which is a difficult standard.

BOOKER: And one presumably Santiago did not meet. Authorities say he followed proper TSA protocols when he checked his semiautomatic weapon before boarding the flight from Anchorage to Fort Lauderdale. Investigators say Santiago seems to have acted alone when he retrieved his luggage from baggage claim, dipped into a bathroom to load his weapon, then begin shooting until he ran out of ammunition. He is scheduled to have his first appearance in a federal court tomorrow in Fort Lauderdale.

Brakkton Booker, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.