News World US airport gunman ‘lost his mind’ after serving in Iraq
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US airport gunman ‘lost his mind’ after serving in Iraq

Suspected gunman, US veteran Esteban Santiago, had a stint serving in Iraq. Photo: Instagram
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The man charged with shooting five people dead and injuring eight others at a Florida airport was an Iraq veteran facing domestic violence charges and undergoing psychological treatment.

Esteban Santiago, 26, of Anchorage, Alaska, allegedly opened fire in the baggage claim area of Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport on Friday (US time).

The gunman is believed to have arrived in the airport on a flight from Alaska before collecting his bag, taking a gun out of his checked baggage, loading it in the bathroom and starting to shoot, only stopping when he ran out of ammunition.

US prosecutors have filed charges against Santiago, which could bring the death penalty if he is convicted.
Prosecutors also charged Santiago with two firearms offences.
Santiago is accused of fatally shooting five people and wounding six others Friday at a Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport baggage claim.
The FBI says Santiago travelled from Alaska to Fort Lauderdale specifically to carry out the shooting.

George Piro, special agent in charge of the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s office in Miami said investigators had not ruled out terrorism as a possible motive in the rampage.

“We have not identified any triggers that would have caused this attack. We’re pursuing all angles on what prompted him to carry out this horrific attack,” Agent Piro said.

Witnesses recalled how there was “no rhyme or reason” to the gunman’s behaviour as he shot randomly at people standing around the baggage carousel.

“He didn’t say anything, he was quiet the whole time, he didn’t yell anything,” witness Mark Lea said.

Warning: some may find this video disturbing

After news Mr Santiago had been taken into custody broke, revelations about his troubled past began to emerge – including reports he had contacted the FBI claiming the government was controlling his mind and was facing charges of domestic violence.

A photo believed to be of Mr Santiago and his newborn son.
A photo believed to be of Mr Santiago and his newborn son.

Relatives of Mr Santiago, who became a first-time father in September 2016, told media the young man had “lost his mind” after returning from military service in Iraq.

According to the Daily Beast, in January 2016 Mr Santiago was arrested for verbally and physically assaulting his then-girlfriend, breaking down a locked bathroom door to smack her in the head and strangle her.

Mr Santiago was released on the condition he would not contact the woman again, but was later found at her residence and charged with violating the conditions of his release.

‘He was a normal person’

Mr Santiago had a history of mental health issues – some of which followed his military service in Iraq – and was receiving psychological treatment at his home in Alaska, his relatives said.

In November, Esteban told FBI agents in Alaska that the government was controlling his mind and was forcing him to watch Islamic State group videos, a law enforcement official said.

“He was a walk-in complaint. This is something that happens at FBI offices around the country every day,” FBI agent Marlin Ritzman said.

On that day, Santiago had a loaded magazine on him, but had left a gun in his vehicle, along with his newborn child, authorities said.

Officers seized the weapon and local officers took him to get a mental health evaluation. His girlfriend picked up the child.

On December 8, the gun was returned to Santiago. Authorities wouldn’t say if it was the same gun used in the airport attack.

Passengers take cover as first responders secure the area outside the Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International airport. Photo: Getty
Passengers take cover as first responders secure the area outside the Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International airport. Photo: Getty

Mr Santiago served from 2007 to 2016 in the Puerto Rico National Guard and Alaska National Guard, including a deployment to Iraq from 2010 to 2011, according to the Pentagon.

“Only thing I could tell you was when he came out of Iraq, he wasn’t feeling too good,” his uncle, Hernan Rivera, told The Record newspaper.

Esteban Santiago in a photo from his Twitter account.
Esteban Santiago in a photo from his Twitter account.

Mr Santiago’s aunt, Maria Ruiz, told NJ.com that Santiago “lost his mind” after his overseas service.

Ms Ruiz said while her nephew seemed happy about the birth of his son, he started to change about a month ago.

“He said he saw things,” she revealed.

Mr Santiago’s brother Bryan Santiago told The Associated Press from Puerto Rico his brother never spoke to him directly about his medical issues and described him as “pro-American” and “spiritual”.

“We have not talked for the past three weeks,” Bryan Santiago said.

“That’s a bit unusual … I’m in shock. He was a serious person … He was a normal person.”

Mr Santiago is expected to appear in court on Monday.

– with AAP, ABC

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