The lone gunman who fatally shot five people at Fort Lauderdale’s airport appeared to have flown here to specifically to carry out the horrific public attack — but exactly why remains unknown, South Florida’s top FBI agent said on Saturday.
Special Agent in Charge George Piro said that investigators have found “no specific reason” why that the gunman chose Fort Lauderdale. Agents have not identified any “triggers” that spurred the attack.
“It appears the shooter was acting alone, but again it’s early in the investigation,” Piro told reporters at a press conference outside the Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport.
Flanked by the Broward Sheriff, Florida’s governor and a congresswoman, Piro spoke the morning after Esteban Santiago is alleged to have opened fire inside the Terminal 2 baggage claim, killing five people, wounding six others and spurring hours of panic and chaos at the Florida’s second busiest airport.
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Santiago, 26, a former U.S. Army soldier who is believed to have suffered from mental illness after tours in Iraq, was booked into the Broward County jail early Saturday, and is being held to face federal charges. He’ll appear in federal court on Monday to face charges.
Most of the airport resumed operations early Saturday.
The press conference filled in some, but by no means all, the details on the attack that shocked a nation already weary from years of mass shootings, some of them considered terrorist attacks.
The gunman used a 9-mm handgun, which he had legally stowed in his checked baggage after arriving shortly after noon on Friday. He is believed to have loaded the weapon in a bathroom before emerging to fire. Santiago fired for less than 80 seconds before surrendering to police, authorities said Saturday.
“Every indication is that he did follow TSA procedures” in flying with the weapon in his luggage, Piro said. The gunman did not appear on any “no-fly” list.
Investigators interviewed the cooperative Santiago for hours afterward, Piro said. There is no evidence he got into any sort of arguments or fights on his flight or in the baggage claim before the attack, the agent said.
Agents and detectives have interviewed nearly 200 witnesses, combed through reams of physical evidence and reviewed surveillance footage.
The U.S. Attorney’s Office will detail the exact charges against Santiago later Saturday. “We are continuing to look at terrorism as an angle for potential motivation for this attack,” Piro said.
Officials did not release the names of the dead or wounded, although their stories had already begun trickling out through relatives and social media. Broward Sheriff Scott Israel did confirm that of the six wounded, three were in good condition and three remained in intensive care.
Piro was joined by Gov. Rick Scott and U.S. Rep Debbie Wasserman Schultz, who called the shooting a “horrific tragedy.”
“We are devastated that this happened in our hometown, in our corner of paradise,” she said.
Earlier in the morning, Scott spoke to assure the public that Florida's tourism industry will thrive despite fears of safety and visitors stranded or delayed in the aftermath of the mass shooting at Fort Lauderdale's airport.
“We love our tourists and we want them to keep coming back,” Scott said at a morning press conference at the airport. “The number one priority for our state is safety.”
Scott also recounted meeting with survivors, including a woman who was shot in the arm. “She thinks she is going to be discharged today,” Scott said.