Florida airport gunman set for court hearing

3 min

Miami (AFP)

Iraq war vet Esteban Santiago is scheduled to make an initial court appearance Monday to face charges related to a Florida airport shooting spree that killed five and wounded six.

Santiago, 26, flew to the Fort Lauderdale airport on Friday and retrieved a 9mm handgun and ammunition that he had declared and packed in his checked luggage.

Santiago, who had previously shown signs of "erratic behavior," allegedly fired his weapon in the busy airport until he ran out of ammunition, then dropped to the ground and peacefully surrendered to a sheriff's deputy, authorities said.

Santiago will have his initial appearance at 11am (1600 GMT) before US Judge Alicia Valle in Fort Lauderdale, the Justice Department said.

He is charged with federal crimes that could carry the death penalty.

Video released Sunday by the TMZ website showed Santiago, bearded and wearing a blue shirt, walking calmly through the baggage claim area.

He strolls past some passengers before removing a gun from his waistband and shooting it, then runs off-screen.

One woman hid behind a luggage cart as others ducked for cover following a brief moment of stunned confusion.

TMZ did not say how it obtained the video, and showed only a 20-second portion that included the moments leading up to the attack and the first shots.

- Mental health history -

The suspect, who traveled from Alaska on a one-way ticket and told investigators he had planned the attack, fired approximately 10 to 15 rounds, shooting methodically while "aiming at his victims' heads," FBI agent Michael Ferlazzo said in court documents.

FBI special agent George Piro said agents were looking into motives for the attack, including "continuing to look at the terrorism angle."

A former member of the Puerto Rico and Alaska National Guard, Santiago served in Iraq from April 2010 to February 2011. He ended his service in August.

On November 7, he walked into the FBI's office in Anchorage, Alaska and complained that his mind was being controlled by national intelligence agencies, which were forcing him to watch Islamic State jihadist videos, authorities said.

This "erratic behavior" led agents to contact local police, who took him for a mental health evaluation, Piro said.

According to several testimonies, including from his brother and an aunt, Santiago was suffering from mental health problems.

Two of the wounded victims remained in intensive care while the other four had been released or were recovering in the hospital, Broward County Sheriff Scott Israel told CNN.

Authorities have not identified any of the victims, but three named in media reports were all getting ready to set off on cruises.

"One of the ladies that was killed was my seatmate on the plane and she was standing right next to me in the baggage claim," one visibly distressed witness told local broadcaster WSVN.

"The pops started. I hit the ground and I turned around and she was shot in the head and killed," she said choking back tears.