At Least 5 Dead, Multiple Injured After Iraq Veteran Allegedly Opened Fire at Fort Lauderdale Airport
A gunman opened fire at the busy South Florida air hub Friday afternoon.
Five people were killed and at least eight more were wounded after a gunman began shooting at the Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport Friday, seemingly opening fire at random in the busy flight hub, officials said.
The gunman has since been identified as 26-year-old Esteban Santiago, a new father and Iraq veteran living in Alaska, according to reports.
The Broward Sheriff’s Office responded to calls of a shooting at a baggage claim in Terminal 2 about 12:55 p.m. on Friday, authorities said.
"Confirming multiple people are dead, and a number of people were transported to a hospital," the Sheriff's Office tweeted an hour after reports of an active shooter first emerged.
One person was taken into custody following the shooting without incident, officials said. The suspect was not injured and was being interviewed by the Sheriff's Office and FBI at an undisclosed location.
No law enforcement official fired any shots during the course of the incident, Broward County Sheriff Scott Israel said.
Senator Bill Nelson, D-Florida, was the first to identify the gunman as Esteban Santiago, telling MSNBC and CNN that the suspect was carrying a military ID. It was unclear if that ID belonged to Santiago or from what country it was issued.
Santiago, who was born in New Jersey, reportedly signed up to serve the National Guard in August 2016 and had been living in Alaska, NBC reported.
Santiago had served a tour of duty in Iraq, after which he was never the same, his aunt told NJ.com.
"He lost his mind," Maria Ruiz Rivera said in Spanish, adding that she as well as relatives in Florida were contacted by law enforcement officials Friday afternoon.
The young man had recently become a father, and though he appeared to be doing well at his job in security, he had been hospitalized for mental health issues after returning from a year-long tour in Iraq about five years ago, his aunt said.
"Only thing I could tell you was when he came out of Iraq, he wasn't feeling too good," Santiago's uncle, Hernan Rivera said.
Santiago had been known to the FBI, according to CBS News, which reported that in November, he walked into the FBI office in Anchorage and told agents he was being forced to fight for ISIS.
The shooter had reportedly flown into Fort Lauderdale with a gun in his checked bag. After picking the luggage up at baggage claim, he went into the bathroom, loaded and then opened fire, Broward County Commissioner Chip LaMarca wrote on Facebook.
He noted the shooter was believed to have flown in from Canada, but sources told NBC News that the man had taken Delta flight no. 1088 from Anchorage to Minneapolis-St. Paul Thursday night, landing Friday morning before flying on Delta flight no. 2182 from Minneapolis-St. Paul to Fort Lauderdale.
Law enforcement authorities had not immediately confirmed LaMarca's account, and on Friday Air Canada wrote on Twitter: "We are deeply saddened by the tragic event that occurred at Fort Lauderdale Airport Terminal 2 today ... Thankfully all our customers and employees at #FLL are reported accounted for and safe ... We confirm we have no record of a passenger by the name Esteban Santiago, or checked guns, on any of our flights to Fort Lauderdale #FLL"
The airport remained locked down Friday as law enforcement officials worked to clear the airport.
Authorities had investigated unconfirmed reports of additional shots fired, but Israel said during a press conference Friday that there had been no confirmation of any gunshots elsewhere in the airport.
"We can’t say there’s no viable threat, we have to clear the airport. It's just a common sense approach," Israel told reporters.
Broward County Mayor Barbara Sharief also told CNN that a "lone shooter" was behind the incident, saying: “We have no evidence at this time that he was acting with anyone else."
“We are still investigating, but we have activated our airport emergency operations center,” she continued.
Chaos first erupted when a slender man in a blue "Star Wars" shirt began randomly firing at travelers, witness John Schichler told MSNBC.
He was able to reload his gun at least once during the shooting, Schichler said.
“He had no intention of escaping,” Mark Lea, who said he witnessed the shooting, told MSNBC.
Lea said the man said nothing as he fired, eventually giving up and sprawling spread-eagle on the floor as police took him into custody.
Ari Fleischer, the former White House press secretary during the administration of George W. Bush, was also at the airport during the shooting.
"I'm at the Ft. Lauderdale Airport. Shots have been fired. Everyone is running," Fleischer tweeted at 12:57 p.m.
By 1:11 p.m., Fleischer posted the update: "All seems calm now but the police aren't letting anyone out of the airport - at least not the area where I am."
Aerial footage from the scene showed throngs of people corralled on the normally off-limits tarmac.
President-elect Donald Trump wrote on Twitter that he was “monitoring the terrible situation in Florida. Just spoke to [Florida] Governor [Rick] Scott. Thoughts and prayers for all. Stay safe!”
Scott was traveling to the airport to be briefed by law enforcement at 2 p.m.
"In Ft. Lauderdale. Monitoring the shooting with law enforcement. Spoke to @realDonaldTrump, FL airports about security and safety," Scott tweeted at 3:06 p.m.
The Federal Aviation Administration advised travelers with flights scheduled to leave from the airport to check with their air carriers, as the shooting had left the facility closed.
"Flights are not arriving or departing from Ft. Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport (FLL) at this time," the FAA said in a statement at 3:10 p.m.
Several flights were diverted to other South Florida airports, while flights destined for FLL were being held on the ground at the airport of origin, the FAA said.
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