Broward County

Airport shooter to be held before potential death-penalty trial

FLL shooting suspect transferred from Broward jail to the federal courthouse for hearing

The gunman who opened fire on Fort Lauderdale airport travelers, leaving a trail of questions about his motive for killing five people and injuring six others, is expected to be ordered held before trial by a federal magistrate judge on Tuesday, J
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The gunman who opened fire on Fort Lauderdale airport travelers, leaving a trail of questions about his motive for killing five people and injuring six others, is expected to be ordered held before trial by a federal magistrate judge on Tuesday, J

The gunman who opened fire on Fort Lauderdale airport travelers, leaving a trail of questions about his motive for killing five people and injuring six others, was ordered held before trial by a federal magistrate judge on Tuesday.

Santiago, 26, who was born in New Jersey and raised in Puerto Rico, is scheduled to be indicted this week on murder charges for the Jan. 6 deaths at Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport before his arraignment next Monday. Prosecutors could file a notice of seeking the death penalty along with the indictment, the first step toward a decision that must ultimately be made by the U.S. attorney general.

Since the deadly rampage, FBI agents have been investigating Santiago's social media sites and questioning witnesses from South Florida to Puerto Rico to Alaska, where he most recently lived before purchasing a one-way ticket to Fort Lauderdale to carry out the apparently random shooting.

Agents have discovered that Santiago, a former Army reservist who did a tour of duty in the Iraq war, had a recent history of domestic violence and a psychiatric evaluation after approaching the FBI in Anchorage to tell them that he was hearing voices urging him to join the Islamic State terrorist group. Anchorage police confiscated his handgun but then a returned it to him last month. It was the same weapon Santiago was suspected of using in the Fort Lauderdale airport shooting.

However, agents don't believe Santiago is a lone wolf, radicalized by extreme Islamist propaganda on the internet, according to sources familiar with the investigation. Instead, they are still trying to figure out what caused him to snap and why he chose the Fort Lauderdale airport as his target.

On Monday, authorities disclosed that Santiago had registered at least four handguns in Puerto Rico, including a 9mm pistol, the same caliber as the suspected murder weapon.

Puerto Rican police said they couldn’t rule out that Santiago had initially registered the Walther 9 mm — used in the Fort Lauderdale airport shooting — in his hometown of Peñuelas.

“We cannot confirm that it was the same weapon,” Puerto Rico police spokesman Edward Ramirez said. “But we do know he had a license to carry [a 9 mm pistol] and we understand that it’s highly probable that it was the same weapon.”

Miami Herald staff writer Jim Wyss contributed to this report.

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