Broward County

The day a shooter opened fire at Fort Lauderdale airport — and what’s happened since

Chaos. Violence. Carnage. Confusion.

On Jan. 6, 2017, a shooter opened fire at a baggage carousel at Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport.

Five people were killed, another eight wounded.

In August 2018, a federal judge sentenced Esteban Santiago to life in prison. He had pleaded guilty to the airport killings to avoid the death penalty.

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Here is a look back at the news story from the day of the shooting, and also Miami Herald archive stories on the victims and the shooter.



UNFOLDING TRAGEDY

Published Jan. 6, 2017:

A troubled Army combat veteran traveling through Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport on Friday retrieved a firearm from his checked luggage, loaded it in the bathroom and then opened fire on fellow passengers waiting by a baggage carousel.

Moments later, five people were dead and eight wounded. The mass shooting shut down one of South Florida’s busiest travel hubs and thrust the airport into chaos that unfolded on live TV, as hundreds of panicked passengers fled, flights were diverted and planes were stranded on the tarmac.

The suspected shooter was identified as Esteban Santiago, law enforcement officials told the Miami Herald. He is thought to have been a passenger on a Delta Airlines flight from Minneapolis that landed in Fort Lauderdale at around noon.

After getting his handgun from a checked bag, Santiago is believed to have gone into the bathroom and loaded the weapon. Then he stepped into the Terminal 2 baggage claim area shortly before 1 p.m. and began shooting.

Witnesses said that after he fired three clips’ worth of rounds, the shooter surrendered to police without a struggle.

Santiago was carrying some form of military ID. He is a former U.S. Army private and combat engineer who served two years in Iraq and lives in Anchorage, Alaska.

Though the Broward Sheriff’s Office, which wouldn’t name Santiago, said there was only one shooter, passengers and airport personnel panicked about an hour after the shooting when a second gunman was falsely reported at the airport. Dozens of people fled across the tarmac as police in armored gear responded with drawn weapons, live TV cameras rolling.

Police and passengers at the terminal took cover behind parked cars. Broward Sheriff Scott Israel later said the only shooting was in Terminal 2 earlier in the day.

The subsequent confusion in Terminal 1 was apparently prompted by a person injured during the evacuation of the airport, Israel said. Israel said the suspected shooter was arrested, unharmed, by BSO deputies.

“At this point, it looks like he acted alone,” Israel said.

Israel wouldn’t name the victims or disclose their genders or ages. He also wouldn’t say which flights the victims had arrived on or what airlines they had flown. He couldn’t elaborate on the extent of the injuries suffered by the eight wounded, all of whom are being treated at area hospitals.

“This scene is considered fluid and active,” Israel said.

Later in the day, an NBC affiliate in Virginia, identified one of the dead victims as Terry Andres, 62, of Virginia Beach. He died at the airport, according to a WAVY-TV report.

Andres’ daughter told the local news station that her father was at the airport with his wife, who was unharmed, and that the pair were going on vacation. He worked at the Norfolk Naval Shipyard. BSO homicide detectives and FBI investigators are interviewing the shooter and witnesses.

No motive was revealed Friday.

“The investigation is very early. We have a lot of preliminary information we’re going through. But at this point, our role is to actively support the Broward Sheriff’s Office,” said George Piro, special agent in charge of Miami’s FBI field office.

Israel said the FBI would take over if the attack is deemed terror-related, but he said it’s too early to know if that’s the case. However, law enforcement sources confirmed to the Miami Herald that Santiago went to an FBI office in Anchorage in November to confess he felt compelled to fight for the terrorist group ISIS.

Florida Gov. Rick Scott, who said he heard about the shooting while in Fort Myers, flew into Fort Lauderdale’s Executive Airport Friday evening. He called the shootings a “senseless act of evil.”

“There is still a lot of information that we are waiting on,” Scott said later in a written statement. “But we know that many people have been killed and many are fighting for their lives at hospitals in Broward County. This was an attack on innocent people who were just trying to travel home to their families or go on a fun trip this weekend.”

FLL Director Mark Gale said the airport had suspended all operations and he couldn’t say when flights would resume. “We’re going to move step by step, methodically through the building before we reopen operations,” he said.

Gale said Friday night that he hoped to have the airport reopen by 5 a.m. Saturday. Port Everglades was also closed to inbound land traffic until further notice, and passengers were instructed to call their airline or cruise line for the latest information.

Court records show Santiago, the suspected shooter, lives or lived in Alaska and has had minor brushes there with the law, including a $1,000 fine for driving without insurance and another infraction for driving with broken tail lights.

Last year, an Anchorage landlord evicted him for failure to pay rent, and in January he was charged with misdemeanor counts of property damage and assault. That case is ongoing.

His attorney did not respond to a request for comment. Santiago has no apparent criminal record in Florida.

President Barack Obama was apprised of the shooting Friday afternoon, the White House said. Obama spoke with Scott and offered condolences to the families of those killed and his prayers for the wounded, said National Security Council Spokesperson Ned Price.

President-elect Donald Trump and Vice President-elect Mike Pence spoke to Florida’s governor while he was en route to Fort Lauderdale. “Just spoke to Governor Scott,” Trump posted on Twitter. “Thoughts and prayers for all. Stay safe!”

The false alarm of a second shooter exacerbated the chaos at the airport.

Though the Federal Aviation Administration initially reported that flights were continuing to land at FLL, after the erroneous report of a second gunman, the FAA issued a ground stop for flights around the country headed to Fort Lauderdale. Those flights were grounded at their originating airports and those that had already landed in Fort Lauderdale were not allowed to disembark.

Several flights were diverted to other South Florida airports, including Miami International. Ethan Repman and his girlfriend, Jessica Deer, said they arrived on a Southwest Airlines flight shortly after 11 a.m., excited about taking a cruise to the Bahamas. They had gathered their luggage and were waiting for a shuttle to take them to Port Everglades when they began to hear shouting outside Terminal 1.

“We saw all these cops and then someone yelled ‘shots fired’ and officers told us to all evacuate,” Repman said. People scrambled to grab their luggage — and find their loved ones.

Some families were separated in the chaos.

Kristen Viers said she had just arrived from Ohio with her 6-year-old grandson when the commotion started. She grabbed her grandson, placed him on the top of her luggage cart and frantically wheeled it out of the terminal. Everyone was shouting and screaming about gunshots, she said.

“I was terrified,” Viers said. “There were police officers with guns everywhere and I just wheeled my cart with my grandson as fast as I could.” One WPLG-ABC 10 live shot at 2:45 p.m. showed hundreds of travelers walking along railroad tracks east of the airport — many of them walking with their hands above their head to show they had no weapons.

Traffic near the airport turned into gridlock after the initial call to police that shots had been fired at the airport came at 12:55 p.m. At the intersection of Griffin Road and U.S. 1, police created a holding area under Interstate 595 for several hundred people who were evacuated from the airport.

They were released one by one after being searched at gunpoint by Hollywood police, who said they were checking for weapons and ensuring that no one else was involved in the shooting.

With hands in the air and helicopters hovering overhead, people slowly emerged from the airport grounds, some with luggage in hand, others having left it behind.

“We were in the parking garage and people started running in the opposite direction. So then we started running the way they were running,” said Daniel McFadden, 42, of Louisiana. “We left behind our suitcase.”

Thomas Sanders, who was traveling with Mills, said several parents were separated from their children during the commotion. “I feel very bad. Everyone is crying their eyes out,” Sanders said. “One mother and father lost their kids. It’s hell over there.”

Yudi Martinez, who works in the rental car section of the airport, was approaching the terminal to start her shift when shots rang out.

“Everyone dropped to the floor. I started hyperventilating,” Martinez said. “In a matter of seconds everyone was running.”

Former White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer, who worked for President George W. Bush, happened to be at the airport, tweeting that “shots have been fired. Everyone is running.”

Fleischer later tweeted that “all seems calm now but the police aren’t letting anyone out of the airport.”

Eyewitnesses at the airport posted photos and other messages on Twitter, including one image that showed a person bleeding profusely while seated in a corner outside of the terminal.

Mark Lea, who said he was a witness to the shootings, told MSNBC that the shooter was wearing a T-shirt, and that he walked into the baggage claim area of Terminal 2 and opened fire with a single handgun.

Lea said the man didn’t speak as he fired before giving up and sprawling face down on the floor as a police officer took him into custody. “He had no intention of escaping.”

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Esteban Santiago C.M. GUERRERO. cmguerrero@elnuevoherald.com

THE SHOOTER

Published Jan. 7, 2017:

The man suspected of rampantly shooting 13 people at Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport on Friday afternoon, killing five and injuring eight, is a decorated U.S. Army Iraq veteran who flew to South Florida from Alaska — where he had received mental-health treatment after recently confessing he felt forced to fight for the terrorist group ISIS.

Federal investigators believe Esteban Santiago, 26, landed at Fort Lauderdale early Friday afternoon with a checked semiautomatic handgun. He picked up his case at the Terminal 2 carousel and walked into the men’s room, where investigators suspect Santiago loaded the weapon. Then he returned to the baggage claim area — and pulled the trigger.

Witnesses described Santiago firing magazine after magazine of ammunition. In some cases, they feared, he was aiming at his victims’ heads. Broward Sheriff’s Office deputies captured Santiago unharmed, without firing a shot of their own, Sheriff Scott Israel said.

“We have not ruled out terrorism,” George Piro, the FBI special agent in charge, said late Friday. Santiago voluntarily walked into an FBI office in Anchorage in November to confess he felt compelled — by voices inside his head — to fight for ISIS, though he said he didn’t intend to harm anyone.

Piro said the feds, alarmed by Santiago’s “erratic” behavior, alerted local police, who took Santiago into custody and sent him to get a mental-health evaluation.

It’s unclear how long the evaluation lasted, where it took place or what, if anything, psychiatrists found. Investigators are expected to comb through Santiago’s social-media profiles and possessions to try to understand his state of mind and possible motives.

Agents have fanned out across several states, including Alaska and New Jersey, to chase leads.

A Facebook profile thought to belong to Santiago quickly vanished from the site. So did an Instagram account that appeared to show three photographs of Santiago — in an Army uniform, with cohorts and with a Puerto Rican flag. Other snapshots showed him in London, with a cousin in Southwest Florida and showing off several tattoos.

Whether Santiago owned either or both accounts went unverified by authorities. Investigators interviewed Santiago at length Friday. He remained in federal custody, with his first court appearance expected Monday.

Why Santiago was in Fort Lauderdale is unknown. Santiago boarded Delta Air Lines flight 1088 to Minneapolis late Thursday night, said Jesse Davis, police chief at Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport. The flight then continued on to Fort Lauderdale. Santiago traveled alone.

The only piece of luggage he checked in, Davis said, was a locked handgun.

“It’s in accordance with policy [for it] to be in a lockable case,” Davis said.

Investigators first said they thought Santiago had traveled from Canada, but that proved incorrect.

A Delta spokesman declined to offer any details on Santiago.

Santiago may have argued with some passengers on the flight, the Herald learned, but Piro, the FBI agent, said he could not confirm that account late Friday.

“At this point, we are unaware of any incident on the flight or at baggage claim,” Piro said.

Santiago had been living in Anchorage, public records show. He was discharged from the military last summer. Santiago, a former Army private first class, was an Iraq War vet who also served in Puerto Rico and Alaska between December 2007 and August 2016, according to Air Force Lt. Col. Candis Olmstead of the Alaska National Guard.

Olmstead said Santiago served in Alaska for less than two years, starting Nov. 21, 2014, and received a “general discharge” from the Alaska Guard on Aug. 16, 2016, “for unsatisfactory performance.” She did not elaborate.

He joined the Puerto Rico National Guard on Dec. 14, 2007, Olmstead said, deployed to Iraq from April 23, 2010, to Feb. 19, 2011, and also did a stint in the Army Reserves before he joined the Alaska Guard.

The Army issued a nearly 10-year military record that described Santiago as released from the Alaska Guard in August to the Inactive Ready Reserve, meaning he could be available for future service.

His name is also listed as Esteban Santiago-Ruiz. His assignments included a short stint at Fort Leonard Wood in Missouri, likely for training, and a single deployment — to Iraq. He received 10 medals and ribbons for his service, notably the Army Commendation and Good Conduct medals as well as the Iraq Campaign Medal with a campaign star.

In January, Santiago was charged in Alaska with misdemeanor counts of property damage and assault. The charges stemmed from an alleged assault on his girlfriend at her Anchorage home, according to court records obtained by Alaska Dispatch News.

The girlfriend told police that Santiago smashed in her bathroom door and tried to strangle her, although an officer said she did not appear to be injured, the newspaper reported.

Santiago was later accused of returning to his girlfriend’s house, which he had been ordered to avoid. A spokeswoman for the Anchorage Police Department referred all questions to the FBI. Santiago’s attorney did not respond to a request for comment. Santiago’s brother in Puerto Rico told the Associated Press Santiago received psychological treatment in Alaska.

Bryan Santiago didn’t know why or how his brother was being treated. He knew of the help from a call his family received in recent months from Esteban Santiago’s girlfriend, the AP reported.

Santiago was born in New Jersey but moved to Puerto Rico when he was 2, according to the AP. Esteban Santiago grew up in the southern coastal town of Peñuelas.

Santiago’s aunt, María Ruiz, told reporters in Union City, New Jersey, that Santiago seemed troubled when he returned from Iraq. According to the Bergen Record, Ruiz said he was “happy” after the birth of his baby boy in September.

“I don’t know why this happened,” Ruiz told the Record, as FBI agents showed up at her door. “Like a month ago, it was like he lost his mind,” she added. “He said he saw things.”

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A bullet lodged in Steve Frappier’s laptop.

A LUCKY WITNESS

Published Jan. 7, 2017:

The dramatic shooting incident at Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport Friday afternoon ended with 13 people shot and five of them dead.

But one person avoided serious injury thanks to a book bag and his MacBook.

Steve Frappier, 37, an Atlanta school counselor and former director of college counseling at Ransom Everglades, was in town for an education conference and had just gotten down to baggage claim.

As people clustered around to get their suitcases, Frappier heard loud firecracker noises but, “I didn’t think much of it because in an airport, there’s always loud sounds.”

But then he heard someone yell out: “He’s got a gun! Get down!” Everyone in the area hit the floor.

Frappier watched as a man, identified by law enforcement as Esteban Santiago, 26, calmly began firing at people.

“He never said anything the entire time,” Frappier said. “He was cool, calm and collected. He never grimaced.”

As luggage began spilling onto him from the conveyor belt, Frappier said he saw a man get shot in the head.

“His wife was screaming, hovering over him,” he said.

He then felt a muffled impact on his back and thought it was just luggage that fell on him. It wasn’t until after the gunman surrendered that Frappier got up in a daze and went to the bathroom.

He opened his backpack and saw a bullet hole in his school-issued Macbook Pro.

He surrendered his backpack to FBI agents, who found the 9 mm bullet inside the backpack, where it fell after hitting the computer.

“If I didn’t have that backpack on, the bullet would have shot me between the shoulders,” Frappier said. “It still doesn’t feel real.”

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Scene at Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport’s Terminal 2 Baggage Claim after a shooting on Friday, January 6, 2017. Mark Lea For the Miami Herald

THE VICTIMS

Published Jan. 8, 2017:

A lone gunman opened fire at Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport on Friday afternoon, wounding six people seriously and killing five.

Officials haven’t released the names of any victims, but families have begun telling their stories to news outlets.

Here are the stories of some of those victims.

Shirley Timmons Timmons was from Senecaville, Ohio, and died at the airport, according to Jim Reineccius, a relative. Timmons’ husband, Steve Timmons, was shot in the face and taken to the hospital, where he is in a coma.

There was confusion after the initial shooting over whether Shirley was dead or had just gotten separated from her family.

Loved ones took to social media to beg for information. A family spokesman told an Ohio radio station that “Steve and Shirley raised an amazing family, three amazing girls. Their family was everything to them.”

He said the couple were on their way to a family cruise leaving from Fort Lauderdale.

Steve and Shirley, who owned the now-shuttered The Mayfair stores in Cambridge, Ohio, were married in 1966, according to an anniversary announcement in The Daily Jeffersonian. Their 51st wedding anniversary would have been on Jan. 28. Steve is retired from Northwest Aluminum in The Dalles, Oregon.

Terry Andres, 62 Andres was from Virginia Beach, Virginia, and died at the airport, according to a local NBC affiliate in Virginia, WAVY-TV. His daughter Ryan Kim, 37, told The Palm Beach Post that her father and mother had just arrived in Fort Lauderdale on their way to a cruise vacation when her father left the Delta Sky Club in Terminal 2 to get a luggage cart.

“Then everything happened,” Kim said. “And after all the ruckus ended, they didn’t realize that my dad wasn’t there right away.” Andres’ wife, Ann, was unharmed.

The couple had been married for nearly 40 years. Kim said her father had worked at the Norfolk Naval Shipyard for about 20 years, most recently as a radiological control technician. He was also a volunteer with the Oceana Volunteer Fire Department in Virginia Beach.

“I know that everyone always says that people are the greatest in the world, but he was the greatest person you could know,” Kim said. “He never had a horrible word to say about anyone or anything.”

A former fire department volunteer, Tommy Harrell, told the Miami Herald that he remembered Terry “as being a great person and doing anything to help out.”

Olga Woltering Woltering and her husband, Ralph, are from Marietta, Georgia. The couple flew into Fort Lauderdale for a cruise with their children, according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

Ralph wasn’t injured in the shooting, but Olga was killed.

The cruise was to celebrate Ralph’s 90th birthday, said fellow churchgoer Dan Blankowski. The couple were involved members of Transfiguration Catholic Church since they joined in 1978, he said, and regular front seat attendees to 5 p.m. Mass.

“To call them pillars of the church would be a gross understatement,” Blankowski said.

Olga, a great-grandmother, was never seen without a wide grin, he said. Her habit of calling everyone “love” or “lovey” was made all the more charming by her British accent.

“Olga was one of the most joyful, loving, caring and committed people I have ever met,” the church’s pastor, Fr. Fernando Molina-Restrepo, said in a statement. “This is a horrible tragedy for everyone here at Transfiguration, especially because Olga was so loved.”

Other parishioners mourned Olga’s death on social media.

“Tragedy hit too close to home today. Transfiguration Church lost a very loving and caring woman in the Ft Lauderdale airport attack,” Jerry de Varennes wrote on Facebook, along with a photo of the couple on a couch, smiling and bouncing babies on their laps.

The family put out a statement Saturday asking for privacy in their time of grief and calling Olga “the cornerstone of our family.”

“While she’s absent in our lives now, she remains in our hearts, thoughts, and memories for ever,” they wrote. “Her bright smile and loving manner will be missed by all who had the fortune to know her. She rarely seemed to meet a stranger, rather she had a smile or a hug for all. She was a blessing in the lives of family and friends.”

The couple lived in a retirement community and were socially active, Alvin Connolly, a member of their church, told The Associated Press. “She and her husband were kind of the life of the party,” he said.

“They’d go to a dance, and they’d be the last ones on the floor.” “You look at them and say, ‘Man, I hope I can do everything they do when I’m that age,’ “ Connolly said.

Michael Oehme, 57 Michael Oehme and his wife, Kari, flew to Fort Lauderdale from Omaha, Nebraska, for their annual cruise. When the shooting started, he was killed and his wife was injured, according to Omaha TV station WOWT.

The witness who told TV stations about the couple, Mark Lea, told Omaha ABC affiliate KETV that he ran to help Kari Oehme moments after the shooting.

“I saw that she had a through-and-through on the right shoulder ... And she said ‘where’s my husband, where’s my husband?’ And I asked her to describe him, and she described him and I looked right over there and saw a white-haired guy in a blue shirt that he had on ... and he was not moving, not breathing.”

Michael Oehme owned a surveying business, according to the Omaha World-Herald. They lived in Council Bluffs, Iowa, which is across the Missouri River from Omaha.

His sister told The Associated Press that the couple was headed to the Caribbean. “They were supposed to leave today,” Elizabeth Oehme-Miller, 52, said on Saturday.

“They were happy to be going on another trip.” A family member is flying down to help Kari, who was a clerical worker at a Council Bluffs office, return home.

Oehme-Miller heard about the news through a text message from her daughter. “I still can’t believe it’s true,” she said. “It hasn’t hit yet. I’m kind of in shock right now.”

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