WASHINGTON – The case of Esteban Santiago, the 26-year-old shooter in the Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport massacre, gets stranger by the minute.
He flew from Alaska without checking any bags, other than the hard gun case he collected in baggage claim and opened to kill five people while wounding six others.
He was already being prosecuted for attacking his girlfriend and attempting to strangle her. He even broke the terms of his release on that charge by entering her home again. But he was allowed to keep his gun.
The FBI interviewed him in November after his employer in Alaska expressed concerns about things he was saying. He reportedly told the FBI he was being forced by the CIA to fight for ISIS. While being evaluated, the FBI took his gun. But they released him and gave it back after a psychiatric investigation that called for no followup and no medication.
He served in Iraq for the Army Reserves and the Alaska National Guard but was discharged for “unsatisfactory performance.”
He registered on MySpace under the name “Aashiq Hammad” and recorded Islamic religious music on the site three years before he ever deployed to Iraq. In 2007 he was posting on an explosives and weapons forum about mass-downloading Islamic terrorist propaganda videos. He also downloaded three songs – one of them titled “La ilaha illAllah,” which is Arabic for “There is no God but Allah” – the first half of the Muslim declaration of faith, the Shahadah. He lived within walking distance of Alaska’s only mosque.
Investigators say he was planning the attack for some time – selling his possessions, including his car, and posting comments that, authorities say, indicate an extended period of preparation.
His family was pleading for help – warning of his instability, and friends in Alaska have told investigators that his behavior had grown erratic. His brother blames the FBI for letting him slip through their fingers.
Not exactly the boy next door who seemed so nice.
As a result of sheer federal governmental incompetence, once again, Santiago AKA Asshiq Hammad, was able to kill five and injure 6 in a shooting attack at the Florida airport Friday after all those “warning shots.”
Santiago emptied three magazines from his pistol, and then police ordered him to sit down, which he did. Police never fired a shot.
He was born in New Jersey and living in Alaska. He took Delta flight 1088 from Anchorage to Minneapolis-St. Paul Thursday night. He landed Friday morning, and then took Delta flight No. 2182 from Minneapolis-St. Paul to Fort Lauderdale.
He had checked his gun, picked it up at baggage claim, then went into the bathroom and loaded it. He came out and started shooting in Terminal 2.
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Florida Gov. Rick Scott held a Friday press conference and said he’d been in contact with President-elect Donald Trump and Vice President-elect Mike Pence, keeping both of them updated on the incident. He said he had not been in contact with President Obama.
A year ago this month, Santiago verbally assaulted his then girlfriend, a 40-year old mother of one child from a previous marriage, smashing through a locked bathroom door and telling her to “Get the f— out, bitch.” After he forced his way in by breaking down the door, he smacked her in the head and attempted to strangle her. By the time police arrived, Santiago had fled the scene.
Santiago was arrested days later and released on the condition that he have no contact with the victim, but in February, Anchorage police found him at his girlfriend’s residence, and he was charged for violating the conditions of his release. That case is still pending with a scheduled court date in March.
Alaska court records show a criminal record under Santiago’s name for minor traffic infractions including operating a vehicle without insurance and a broken taillight. Records also show his landlord evicted him for non-payment of rent in February 2015.
Santiago served in the U.S. military, first in the Puerto Rico Army National Guard in 2007, according to the Department of Defense. He was deployed to Iraq in April 2010 as a combat engineer and returned to the U.S. in early 2011. In November 2014, after moving to Alaska, he joined the Alaska National Guard. According to a spokesperson for the Alaska National Guard, Santiago went AWOL several times before he was kicked out.
Santiago visited an FBI office in Anchorage in 2016, claiming voices were telling him to fight for ISIS. he also said he was being controlled by the CIA to watch ISIS videos. According to his aunt, Santiago became a father in September. More recently, he was hospitalized for two weeks.
“Like a month ago, it was like he lost his mind,” Maria Luisa Ruiz of New Jersey told the Bergen Record newspaper. “He said he saw things.”
The suspect’s brother, Bryan Santiago, said he believes the shooting rampage resulted from mental issues that surfaced after the Iraq tour.
Esteban Santiago requested medical help from army and federal agencies, according to his brother. He received some treatment.
“The FBI failed there,” his brother told the Associated Press, speaking in Spanish from Puerto Rico. “We’re not talking about someone who emerged from anonymity to do something like this. The federal government already knew about this for months, they had been evaluating him for a while, but they didn’t do anything.”