January 7, 2017 Federal investigators say the lone gunman in Friday afternoon’s deadly shooting at the Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport targeted the specific location to carry out the deadly attack. During a news conference on Saturday, the FBI stopped short of calling the shooting an act of terrorism, but confirmed investigators “continue to look at the terrorism angle” as a possible motive.
According to federal investigators, Esteban Santiago, 26, flew from Anchorage to Minneapolis, Minnesota, before traveling on to Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport on a Delta flight that landed Friday afternoon around 1 p.m. Santiago checked a single piece of luggage, a case with a handgun inside. He retrieved the gun from the baggage claim area at Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport Terminal 2 before taking the 9 mm handgun out of the case and shooting at other travelers Friday afternoon, killing five people and injuring six others.
In November, 2016, Esteban Santiago walked into an FBI office in Anchorage, Alaska claiming he was being forced to fight for ISIS. FBI special agent in charge in Miami, George Piro told reporters on Saturday that FBI in Anchorage turned Santiago over to local authorities and he voluntarily submitted to a mental health evaluation.
Santiago was a member of the Alaska Army National Guard from November 2014 until August, 2016, when he was discharged for unsatisfactory performance, a spokeswoman for the guard said. A U.S. military official said Santiago’s nine years of service in the National Guard included one 10-month tour of Iraq, where he was awarded a combat action badge.
Santiago’s aunt told CNN on Saturday that when Santiago returned from Iraq, he was a changed man.
“His mind was not right,” the aunt, Maria Ruiz Rivera, said in a phone interview in Spanish from her home in New Jersey. “He seemed normal at times, but other times he seemed lost. He changed.”
Following the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on American soil, airport security has been a priority for the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. The Transportation Security Agency (TSA), housed in the Department of Homeland Security has been controversial since it’s inception. TSA officials have touted several layers of airport security — both the seen and unseen counter-terrorism efforts. Critics argue that after billions of tax payer dollars allocated by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, the TSA has not prevented a single terrorist attack. In November 2013, a shooting at Los Angeles International Airport that killed a TSA officer at a security checkpoint and wounding two others exposed the gaping holes in airport security.
There is no true method to measure airport preparedness, other than actual events. Dozens of independent studies by the Government Accountability Office and even FBI and Department of Homeland Security Inspector General studies have revealed gaping holes both inside airports and in perimeter security. In the 15 year history of the TSA, there have been hundreds of serious security breaches reported at airports, including two teenagers in separate incidents who managed to sneak into the wheel wells of commercial airliners undetected.
Cynthia Hodges holds a M.A. in Political Science from NEIU in Chicago, Illinois and a Post-Grad Professional Certificate in Disaster and Terrorism Management from University of North Carolina -Chapel Hill. In addition to a successful writing career, Cynthia is in the process of writing a book on the role of private security guards as first responders in the post 9/11 America. "My career has been a balance of security and education, and my passion for Homeland Security while protecting individual's Constitutional rights has grown as a result of the two."