FORT LAUDERDALE (CBSMiami) — The Iraq war veteran accused of killing five and wounding six made up his mind that he’d come to Ft. Lauderdale and shoot travelers, according to the FBI at a media briefing Saturday.
“Indications are that he came here to carry out this horrific attack,” said FBI Miami’s George Piro. “We have not identified any triggers that would have caused this attack. But again, it’s very early in the investigation.”
They’re now looking into why the suspect, Esteban Santiago, 26, chose South Florida.
Investigators interviewed about 175 people, including family members and Santiago himself, after he opened fire Friday afternoon at the Terminal 2 baggage claim with a 9mm semi-automatic handgun that he legally checked in on a flight from Alaska.
“We’re looking at not only all the places he has resided but also all the places he’s traveled recently and some indication of other locations,” Agent Piro continued.
Combing through his social media revealed images of a proud father and his travels around the world as a former National Guard soldier from Alaska.
In one image, Santiago wears a keffiyah, the traditional garb of Arab men, and holds a single finger in the air, a salute synonymous with the Islamic State.
In November, he walked into an FBI office in Anchorage, saying the U.S. government was controlling his mind and forcing him to watch Islamic State group videos, a law enforcement official said.
“It is very normal for citizens to walk into the FBI field offices throughout the country. Our FBI offices are open to the general public and we welcome citizens to come forward and provide us information and assistance,” said the agent. “It was during that contact that the agents noted the erratic behavior that concerned them and motivated them to call the local authorities to have him taken into custody and evaluated at a medical facility for his mental health.”
He spoke of mind control, a law enforcement official told The Associated Press, and the local police department added that he had his newborn in the car when he went to the FBI. The child’s mother was contacted and she picked the baby up.
There have been several run-ins between police and Santiago regarding physical altercations, the FBI said in a press conference in Alaska Saturday.
Santiago’s mother said her son had been traumatized while serving in Iraq around the age of 18, when a bomb exploded near two of his friends.
During the November interview, Santiago indicated that he didn’t intend to harm anyone.
But on Friday, he flew from Alaska to Minnesota, then to Ft. Lauderdale. He checked in one bag, which contained the gun.
Upon arrival, “he claimed his bag and took the gun from baggage and went into the bathroom to load it. Came out shooting people in baggage claim,” said Chip LaMarca, a Broward County commissioner who was briefed by investigators.
Witnesses described the shooter as calm.
“Santiago fired approximately 10 to 15 rounds of ammunition from his firearm, aiming at victims’ heads. He was described as walking in a methodical manner,” the feds said in their arrest affidavit.
He told the authorities that he shot the first people he saw as he exited the restroom.
Within minutes, video emerged on social media showing the surreal aftermath. Victims lay in their blood. Their family and other passengers huddle over them, some wandering aimlessly confused and in disbelief.
The shooting stopped when the gunman ran out of bullets, the Broward Sheriff’s Office said.
Santiago would be taken into custody without incident, laying down on the ground and spreading his arms and legs out wide.
He appears to have acted alone, Piro said.