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Airport Gunman Charged, Could Face Death Penalty

Image: Airport Gunman Charged, Could Face Death Penalty

Esteban Santiago (Broward County Sheriff's Office via AP)

By    |   Saturday, 07 Jan 2017 06:49 PM

Federal prosecutors filed charges Saturday against the suspect in the Florida airport shooting that could bring the death penalty if he is convicted — and Esteban Santiago told authorities that he had planned the Friday afternoon rampage that killed five people and injured six others.

The criminal complaint, filed by Miami U.S. Attorney Wifredo Ferrer, accuses Santiago, 26, of an act of violence at an international airport resulting in death.

The maximum punishment is death or life in prison.

"Today's charges represent the gravity of the situation and reflect the commitment of federal, state and local law enforcement personnel to continually protect the community and prosecute those who target our residents and visitors," Ferrer said in a statement.

Prosecutors also charged Santiago with two firearms offenses.

Santiago is accused of fatally carrying out the shooting in the baggage claim area of Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport about 12:55 p.m.

He is former member of the U.S. Army National Guard who served in the Iraq War.

Santiago was being held Saturday without bail. He is scheduled to make his first court appearance Monday.

According to an affidavit filed in the case, Santiago told FBI investigators that he had specifically traveled from Anchorage, Alaska, to Fort Lauderdale to carry out the shooting.
He bought a one-way ticket that took him through Minneapolis.

The affidavit did not say why Santiago specifically chose Fort Lauderdale.

Santiago told investigators that he had fired as many as 15 rounds from his Walther 9mm semi-automatic handgun — "aiming at his victims' heads" — in the baggage-claim area and that he was carrying two magazines.

He said that he had checked the handgun in his luggage.

When in arrived in Florida, "he claimed the box and took it into a men's restroom in Terminal 2, near the baggage claim," the affidavit said.

He then went into a nearby men's room, "removed the gun from the box, loaded it, and put it in his waistband.

"He then left the men's restroom and shot the first people he encountered," the affidavit said.

Santiago "emptied his first magazine, then reloaded and shot until the second magazine too was out of bullets," the document said. "He believes he shot approximately 15 rounds before his arrest" by Broward County sheriff's deputies.

During the shooting, Santiago was "described as walking while shooting in a methodical manner" — and he had briefly left the terminal before returning while "still carrying the handgun," according to the affidavit.

When he was approached by deputies, Santiago "dropped the handgun on the ground … and dropped to the floor."

In Florida, Gov. Rick Scott and hospital officials said Saturday that one shooting victim was expected to be released.

Six victims were taken to Broward Health Medical Center after the shooting. Three remained in intensive care. No further details were released.

Three of the victims who died were identified Saturday.

They were Olga Woltering, 84, of Georgia; Terry Andres, 62, of Virginia, and Michael Oehme, 57, of Nebraska.

Authorities would not say Saturday whether the handgun Santiago used was the one he retrieved from the Anchorage Police Department on Dec. 8.

Anchorage Police Chief Christopher Tolley said that police confiscated the gun, which they found inside Santiago's car, on Nov. 7, when officers took him to a local hospital for a mental health evaluation.

Officers had been called to the local FBI office because Santiago had walked in and told agents that he was "having terroristic thoughts and believed he was influenced by ISIS," Tolley told reporters earlier Saturday.

"Santiago had a loaded magazine on him, but left his firearm in his vehicle prior to contacting agents," he added.

Alaska U.S. Attorney Karen Loeffler said that Santiago was able to obtain the weapon because he had not been "adjudicated as mentally ill" after the mental health evaluation.

Under federal law, therefore, "this is not somebody that would have been prohibited, based on the information that they have," she said.

"Law enforcement acted within the laws that they have," Loeffler added. "We're a country of laws and they operated within them."

Officials in both Alaska and Florida have ruled out terrorism as a possible motive for the attack.

"There's currently no indication that Mr. Santiago was working with any other individuals when he planned and carried out yesterday's attack," Marlin Ritzman, FBI special agent in charge, told reporters in Anchorage.

His counterpart in Florida, George Piro, told The Miami Herald that "indications are that he came here to carry out this horrific attack.

"We have not identified any triggers.

"It appears the shooter was acting alone, but, again, it’s early in the investigation."

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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Esteban Santiago has been charged with a violent airport act, which carries a possible death sentence, the Associated Press is reporting, quoting a U.S. attorney.Santiago was taken into custody after the shooting rampage on Friday that left five people dead and eight...
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