The gunman who allegedly killed five people and wounded eight others Friday at Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport has been identified as a New Jersey-born Iraq veteran who suffered from mental illness.
Esteban Santiago’s aunt, Maria Ruiz Rivera, told NJ.com that her nephew has “lost his mind” ever since he was deployed to Iraq during his military service.
She said Santiago, who was taken into custody after the shooting, has been living in Alaska and has a newborn baby boy.
Santiago served in the National Guard in Puerto Rico for six years and served in Iraq for about a year in either 2009 or 2010, Rivera said. When he returned from the Middle East, he was hospitalized for mental problems in Puerto Rico, where he was born, she said.
Her husband, Hernan Rivera, agreed that Santiago was not mentally sound and said the motive behind his attack was unclear.
“No idea. Only thing I could tell you was when he came out of Iraq, he wasn’t feeling too good,” he said.
Law enforcement officials said the 26-year-old Santiago had military ID on him when he was arrested.
John Schichler, a witness of the shooting, told MSNBC that Santiago was wearing a Star Wars T-shirt when he began shooting passengers in the Delta Air Lines baggage area around 1 p.m. Eastern time.
Santiago reportedly took a Delta flight from Anchorage, Alaska, to Minneapolis-St Paul Thursday night and landed Friday morning. He then boarded Delta Flight 2182 to Fort Lauderdale, where he allegedly picked up his gun baggage claim in the airport’s terminal and began gunning down bystanders.
CBS News reported that Santiago was known to the FBI after he walked into the FBI office in Anchorage in November and told agents he was being forced to fight for ISIS.
NEW: In Nov. 2016, FLL suspect walked into FBI office in Anchorage, claiming he was being forced to fight for ISIS, sources tell CBS News.
— CBS News (@CBSNews) January 6, 2017
Santiago’s brother, Bryan, said Santiago is “pro-America”and he could not imagine his brother intentionally killing innocent people.
He suggested Santiago might have had a “flashback” from his military experience, according to NBC.
“He is a regular person, spiritual, a good person,” Bryan Santiago said.
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