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Death Penalty Possible for Fort Lauderdale Airport Shooter

January 8, 2017 - 6:45pm

Iraq veteran Esteban Santiago casually strolled through the baggage claim area of the Fort Lauderdale Airport Friday afternoon before spraying bullets on unsuspecting victims, leaving five dead and six others wounded.

Santiago calmly reached for the gun hidden in his belt.

Then he fired the first shots.

Panic. 

Passengers scattered. Some hid behind luggage carts. Some fled to the bathrooms. Others hit the floor, unsure of whether they were breathing their last breaths.

Investigators still aren’t sure of a motive for the shooting, which sent a wave of terror over Floridians and travelers. 

Santiago has been charged with an act of violence at an international airport resulting in death.

If convicted, Santiago could face the death penalty.

He faces a judge for his first court hearing Monday. 

Santiago told investigators the attack was pre-planned. He told investigators he bought a one-way ticket from Alaska to Florida but it’s unclear why he chose the Fort Lauderdale airport as his target. 

The Fort Lauderdale airport is located about 20 miles north of Miami and serves as a major hub for South Florida flyers. 

Florida leaders made haste to respond to the shooting. Gov. Rick Scott flew to Fort Lauderdale shortly after reports of the shooting emerged. 

Scott said Florida wouldn’t stand for such violent crimes and vowed to hold the perpetrator responsible for the crime. 

“The citizens of Florida will not tolerate senseless acts of evil,” said Scott Friday. “Whoever is responsible will be held accountable to the full extent of the law.”

Scott has spent most of the weekend in South Florida, speaking with directors of state airports and holding briefings with Florida Department of Law Enforcement Commissioner Rick Swearingen. 

On Saturday, the governor visited the scene. Passengers who fled the airport had returned to retrieve their bags among the 20,000 items left behind during Friday’s mandatory evacuation. 

Scott was there to help. 

The Miami Herald reported a passenger was looking for four bags among the thousands of items left over at the airport. Seeing Scott, passenger Ronald Mackey of Maryland knew he should reach out. 

Mackey explained his frustration over not being able to find his luggage which had been abandoned in the chaos. Scott personally talked to representatives at Delta, who  offered to send Mackey’s bags to Aruba, their first port of call. 

Other Florida politicians offered words of support and comfort. 

“My thoughts and prayers are with all those at @FLLFlyer, families of the victims and the @browardsheriff first responders,” U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio tweeted Friday.

“Praying for the victims and everyone at the #FortLauderdale airport,” wrote U.S. Rep. Carlos Curbelo.

More questions than answers plague Florida as the search continues for answers. 

If anything is clear, it’s that terror has come to Florida once more. Last year, a mass shooting at an Orlando nightclub left 49 dead. Shootings at airports are incredibly uncommon.

Around 73,000 passengers fly through Fort Lauderdale every day. 

The investigation is ongoing.  

 

Reach reporter Allison Nielsen by email at allison@sunshinestatenews.com or follow her on Twitter: @AllisonNielsen.

 

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