Broward County

In wake of airport shooting, Broward sheriff says mentally ill should not have guns

Broward Sheriff Scott Israel
Broward Sheriff Scott Israel Sun Sentinel

Two days after a lone gunman with psychological problems opened fire at Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport, Broward Sheriff Scott Israel came out with a strong call for tightening guns laws: People with mental illness, he said, should not have access to guns.

“Something has to change,” Israel said on “This Week in South Florida” on Local 10 WPLG during a discussion with journalists Michael Putney and Glenna Milberg. “People who are suffering from mental illness should not be allowed, in my opinion, to purchase or have firearms at any time.”

Israel also said he felt compassion for people struggling with mental illness, a social challenge that he said he believes needs more funding and support.

The sheriff, who helped direct the law enforcement response to the incident, also echoed what federal investigators have been saying: Suspected gunman Esteban Santiago has no known ties to terrorist groups at this point in the investigation, which is still ongoing.

Santiago, he said, initially told Broward deputies and FBI agents that the CIA had put a chip in his head to program him and forced him to watch ISIS videos. Santiago changed his story an hour or two later and said ISIS had paid him, according to Israel.

“Either he is part of ISIS and this is a terrorist act, or he’s going to be deemed a homegrown violent extremist and he has no more ties to ISIS than you or I,” he said. “It’s just that something happened in his life, there’s extreme violent behavior, and he decided to commit mass murder.”

Among the many unanswered questions, Israel said investigators still do not know why Santiago chose Fort Lauderdale to carry out his attack. Federal prosecutors charged Santiago on Saturday, saying he planned the airport attack. Santiago is currently under suicide watch at Broward County Jail, Israel said. The FBI will pick him up on Monday and transfer him to a federal facility in Miami-Dade County.