Editorials

Why didn’t the FBI dig deeper into Santiago’s story?

Miami Herald Editorial Board

Motive a mystery for lone gunman in airport attack, FBI says

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.
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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.

Esteban Santiago, clearly troubled by what was going on in his head, went to the FBI before the carnage authorities say he unleashed at Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport on Friday. Weeks before.

But why words he used — Islamic State, terrorist — didn’t lead agents in Anchorage, Alaska, where he lived, to do anything more than let local police handle it appears the biggest lapse so far in this horrific case.

And that complicates the case of Santiago, 26, the former Iraq War veteran who will appear in federal court Monday to face charges for the shootings that left five people dead and eight others wounded.

On Sunday, Broward Sheriff Scott Israel appeared on “This Week in South Florida” and suggested mentally ill individuals should not own guns. Period. He’s right. In 2013, state lawmakers broadened a law banning Floridians who are involuntarily committed from owning guns to include those who voluntarily submit themselves for treatment. None of which would have helped in Santiago’s case.

And a chilling security video of Santiago opening fire was given or sold to TMZ, a leak the BSO must investigate.

Now, even as Americans learn more about Santiago and his long, unfortunate journey from Alaska to South Florida, the questions are endless. He had domestic-violence charges lurking in his background, as well as a “general discharge” from the Alaska National Guard for “unsatisfactory performance.”

It is imperative that the FBI and — to the degree that they can given confidentiality laws — the psychiatric professionals who encountered Santiago respond quickly and forthrightly.

Unfortunately, it appears that almost everyone did everything according to law, which makes the shootings even more tragic.

Santiago’s journey did not begin when he set foot on that Delta flight in Anchorage, knowing what he would do when he landed.

In early November, before becoming a so-called “active shooter” and opening fire on that group of innocent people at baggage claim, Santiago went to the FBI — leaving his infant son and a gun in his car — and told to agents that the CIA had taken control of his mind and was forcing him to watch ISIS videos. He said he felt compelled to go fight for the terrorist group. Santiago obviously needed treatment.

The FBI called local police, who took Santiago into custody. He eventually got a psychiatric evaluation and remained hospitalized for a time.

But he was never adjudicated mentally ill. If he had, Santiago, under federal law, would not be allowed to have a firearm. But, instead, it means Alaska police eventually returned his gun because they had no legal authority to withhold it.

It means Santiago was able check a gun and bullets in a bag and board a flight for Fort Lauderdale. It means there was nothing preventing him from doing what he is said to have done when he got off the plane.

Even though Santiago was alarmed at his own state of mind and told the FBI he was considering fighting for ISIS, he was put on neither a no-fly list, which would have prevented him from flying internationally if that truly were his plan, or the Terrorist Watch List, which would have triggered other alarms.

We need to know why all this happened. More urgent, we need to know that it won’t happen again. It’s very possible that Santiago is one “lone wolf” that could have been snared.

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