The Slatest

Florida Airport Gunman Is Iraq War Vet Who Feared CIA Was Controlling His Mind

Passengers take cover as first responders secure the area outside the Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International airport after a shooting took place near the baggage claim on January 6, 2017 in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.

Joe Raedle/Getty Images

As more details emerge about the Friday shooting at the Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport that killed five people, it seems clear the suspected gunman was mentally ill. His family said as much. “Like a month ago, it was like he lost his mind,” Esteban Santiago-Ruiz’s aunt told the Record newspaper. “He said he saw things.” His uncle said it all went back to his 2010 Iraq tour: “Only thing I could tell you was when he came out of Iraq, he wasn’t feeling too good.” His aunt agreed the deployment changed him, telling MSNBC he came back “a different person.”

The government was well aware of Santiago’s mental health issues. In November, the 26-year-old had walked into an FBI office in Anchorage and was “acting crazy,” telling agents his mind was being controlled by the CIA and other elements of the U.S. government. Some reports claim Santiago told FBI agents that the government was forcing him to watch ISIS videos, while others take it a step further, claiming the Iraq war veteran complained he was being forced to fight for ISIS. After they interviewed Santiago, agents called the police who took him to a mental health facility. It seems he was under some sort of psychiatric treatment as Santiago’s girlfriend recently called his family in Puerto Rico to alert them about his treatment.

Santiago was deployed to Iraq in 2010 as part of the Puerto Rico National Guard and spent a year there with an engineering battalion, clearing roads of explosives. He later joined the Alaska Army National Guard in 2014 but was discharged this past August for “unsatisfactory performance” after apparently going AWOL numerous times. He became a father a month later.

The young veteran boarded a plane in Anchorage and transferred in Minneapolis for a flight to Fort Lauderdale, where he arrived at around noon. Santiago then went to get his checked bag, removed his handgun and took it to the bathroom, where he apparently loaded the weapon. He then stepped into the baggage claim area and began shooting indiscriminately, reportedly without uttering a word. Five people were killed and eight wounded by gunfire. The panic led to as many as 40 people being injured with bruises and broken bones. After he ran out of bullets he got on the ground and waited for police to arrest him.

Officials say they have “not ruled out terrorism” as a possible motive for the shooting. “We will be pursuing every angle to try to determine the motive behind this attack,” said George Piro, special agent in charge of the FBI’s office in Miami.