NEWS

Shooting At Ft. Lauderdale Airport Leaves 5 Dead

06/01/2017 11:49 PM IST | Updated 07/01/2017 9:53 AM IST
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People wait on the Tarmac at Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport after a reported shooting
  • A gunman opened fire in a baggage claim area at the Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport in South Florida.
  • Five people were killed and eight were wounded in the attack, according to the Broward County Sheriff’s Office.
  • The suspected shooter, identified by authorities as 26-year-old Esteban Santiago, has been taken into custody.

An American gunman opened fire Friday at the Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport in Florida, killing five people and injuring eight others before being taken into custody, authorities said.

Law enforcement officials have identified the shooter as 26-year-old Esteban Santiago. Despite some earlier reports, no other attacks occurred in different parts of the airport, said Broward Sheriff Scott Israel.

“This cowardly, heinous act resulted in the deaths of five people. There were eight more people injured by way of gunshot,” Israel  said.

An additional 37 people were injured in the panic following the attack, the sheriff’s office reported. Israel said injuries include contusions, broken bones, strains and sprains.

The shooting occurred just before 1 p.m. local time in the baggage claim area.

“We have no evidence at this time that he was acting with anyone else,” Broward County Mayor Barbara Sharief said of the shooter. No motive has been identified, and authorities say they have not ruled out terrorism. 

Mark Lea, a witness to the shooting, told CBS News that the attack appeared to be random. The suspect was “not screaming anything, not shouting anything,” Lea said. “He was just picking off things like target practice.” Authorities arrested him without incident.

A video shared from inside the airport showed people huddled on the ground and crying. At the end of the footage, at least one woman could be seen bleeding on the ground.

“The casings were flying all around us,” another woman said in the video. 

Ari Fleischer, the White House press secretary for George W. Bush, tweeted from the scene about the shooting.

Videos and photos showed people waiting outside on the tarmac and then being allowed back inside. At about 2:30 p.m. Eastern time, people could be seen running back out onto the tarmac.

Fort Lauderdale Airport Shooting

Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.) said during a television interview that Santiago had a military ID on him at the airport. The Alaska Army National Guard confirmed to KTUU-TV in Anchorage that he served at one time but is no longer part of the organization.

Authorities confirmed during a Friday evening news conference that Santiago traveled to Fort Lauderdale from Anchorage via Minneapolis on a Delta Airlines flight. 

“The thoughts and prayers of the entire Delta family are with the people of Fort Lauderdale and Broward County, and those involved in the tragic events today,” company CEO Ed Bastian said in a statement.

In November, Santiago walked into the FBI office in Anchorage and spoke with federal agents, George Piro, special agent in charge of the FBI’s Miami Field Office, said at Friday evening’s news conference. 

“At that time he clearly stated that he did not intend to harm anyone, however, his erratic behavior concerned FBI agents that were interviewing him and they contacted local police and turned him over to local police,” Piro said. “He was taken into custody by the local police and transported to a medical facility for a mental health evaluation. We looked at his contacts, we did our interagency check and everything, and at that point we closed our assessment.” 

Santiago’s aunt, Maria Ruiz, told North Jersey news he was a veteran who had served in Iraq. But when he came back, he was acting strangely.

“I don’t know why this happened,” Ruiz said. She added that her nephew seemed happiest when he was with his child, who was born last year.

Santiago’s brother, Bryan Santiago, told NBC News that the alleged gunman had recently worked as a security guard in Alaska, where he was “fighting with a lot of people” and had received psychological counseling.

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A video posted by Gene Messina (@gmessina121) on

Gina Erpardo and her family were waiting for their flight home to Detroit after a cruise to the Bahamas when the shooting broke out. Erpardo, 39, was eating hamburgers with her husband and two sons one level above the baggage claim when she heard the gunshots.

“First I heard screaming and everybody was running like crazy in a panic,” Erpardo told The Huffington Post. “While I was trying to understand what was going on, I heard shots.”

Erpardo said she and her husband immediately lay down on top of their 5-year-old and 10-year-old sons to protect them. She said the first thought she had was of the Istanbul nightclub attack that left at least 39 dead just days ago.

“At that moment, I was lying down on my 5-year-old son, and I was just trying to protect him because I thought somebody was going to come with a gun and shoot everyone,” Erpardo said.

Airport staff led the family family outside, where 200 to 300 others were being held until police cleared the area, Erpardo said. The family was unharmed.

Operations were suspended at the airport, and it was unclear when it will reopen. Authorities have set up a hotline for families and friends of those who were in the airport during the shooting to get information about loved ones. They asked people in the airport not to call 911 unless they were involved in a true emergency.

Several other airports, including Miami International Airport, which is only about 30 miles away, said they were reinforcing security measures out of caution.

Florida Gov. Rick Scott (R) said at a news conference that he briefed President-elect Donald Trump and Vice President-elect Mike Pence on the shooting, to keep them “informed.” He did not reach out to President Barack Obama.

Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.), who was shot during a constituent meeting in Tucson in 2011, said on Twitter that the shooting was “another painful reminder of our nation’s gun violence crisis.

Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport is roughly three miles south of downtown Fort Lauderdale and 21 miles north of Miami. The airport says it was ranked the 21st busiest airport in the United States in 2015, with anticipated passenger traffic in 2016 of 29 million people.

This is a developing story. Check back for updates.

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