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15 July 2024

Florida airport shooting suspect indicted on 22 counts

A shooting victim arrives at the Broward Health Trauma Center. (AP)


A federal grand jury returned a 22-count indictment against the man accused of a shooting rampage at a South Florida airport that left five people dead and six wounded.

The indictment Thursday charges Esteban Santiago, 26, with 11 counts of causing death or bodily harm at an international airport, five counts of causing death during a crime of violence and six counts of using a firearm during a crime of violence. Santiago could face the death penalty if convicted in the Jan. 6 shooting at Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport.

The indictment contains no terrorism-related charges despite Santiago’s claims to the FBI after the shooting that he was inspired by videos and chatrooms affiliated with the Islamic State extremist group, which agents have not been able to corroborate. Santiago also told authorities in that interrogation he was the victim of some form of government mind control, the FBI has said.

Santiago, an Iraq war veteran who lived in Anchorage, Alaska, is scheduled to enter a plea to the charges Monday. He is being held without bail.

The indictment adds no new details about the shooting but lays out the legal framework of the crimes Santiago allegedly committed and the names of each person who died.

“They have made the necessary allegations to seek the death penalty,” said David S. Weinstein, a former federal prosecutor now in private practice.

The Justice Department has not yet announced whether it will seek capital punishment.

Investigators say Santiago legally brought a gun box containing his weapon and ammunition as checked luggage for a flight from Anchorage to Fort Lauderdale. Once on the ground, Santiago retrieved the box, took it to a bathroom, loaded the Walther 9mm handgun and came out firing.

After firing 15 shots, authorities say Santiago exhausted his ammunition and laid down on the floor where he was arrested. An FBI agent testified at a recent bond hearing that Santiago confessed and that most of the shooting spree was captured on several airport surveillance cameras.

The FBI previously said Santiago visited its office in Anchorage last year complaining about hearing voices and supposed CIA mind control, which led to Anchorage police temporarily seizing his gun and Santiago’s brief stay in a mental hospital.

At the Alaska Psychiatric Institute, records show Santiago was given anti-anxiety medications but no prescriptions for drugs that would treat serious mental conditions such as schizophrenia. He was released after a five-day stay with no restrictions that might prevent him from possessing a gun, and his weapon was returned by police. That same gun was used in the airport shooting.

An Anchorage police report obtained Thursday by The Associated Press shows that Santiago allowed police to hold his gun for safekeeping while he was committed for the mental evaluation. The report of the Nov. 7 encounter said Santiago was worried the gun would be stolen from his vehicle.

The report sheds little light on the mental state of Santiago.

Anchorage police initially denied release of all reports involving Santiago because of the federal investigation. The AP appealed, arguing release of the Anchorage reports would not interfere with that prosecution.