A shooter opened fire at Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport in Floridaearlier on Friday, killing five people and wounding multiple others, law enforcement officials said.
The shooter was in custody — unharmed and under interrogation — the Broward County Sheriff’s office said, but the situation remained “fluid and active.” Multiple law enforcement sources identified the suspect as New Jersey -born Esteban Santiago, 26, and said he had a military ID on him at the time of his capture.
All flights were grounded and additional areas of the airport were being evacuated and cleared. The motive for the attack, which started shortly before 1 p.m. was not known, according to law enforcement officials.
Florida Gov. Rick Scott held a news conference with Broward County Sheriff Scott Israel shortly after 5:15 p.m. ET. He reconfirmed the death toll of five people and said he learned about the incident earlier while he was in Fort Myers.
The governor said he reached out to President-elect Donald Trump to update him and Vice President-elect Mike Pence as the situation unfolded. Gov. Scott said he and President Barack Obama have not reached to each other.
Vice President-elect Pence spoke to reporters outside of Trump Tower in Manhattan around 5:50 p.m., ET, saying the shooting was a “heartbreaking loss of life” and “the hearts of every American are in Fort Lauderdale tonight.” Pence also briefly remarked on the “constructive and respectful dialogue” he and Trump had with the leaders of intelligence community during their briefing earlier Friday.
In an earlier news conference, law enforcement officials said they did not fire any shots during the gunman’s capture. They also confirmed — despite unconfirmed reports suggesting otherwise — that no additional shots were fired at the airport at any time after the attack.
SWAT teams and law enforcement officials will work to clear every area of the airport before reopening, they said. As a precaution, the Broward Sheriff’s Office bomb squad detonated a suspicious package at the airport. That package was later found to be no threat.
The airport tweeted that the shooting took place at the Terminal 2 baggage claim area in the lower level, adding that the airport would be closed for an extended period of time.
Shortly after the shooting, the Transportation Security Administration warned people at the airport to shelter in place and described it as an active shooter situation.
Sources involved in the investigation told NBC News — and publicly available flight information confirmed — that the gunman flew on two separate Delta Air Lines (DAL)flights from Anchorage, Alaska to Minneapolis-St. Paul and on to Fort Lauderdale.
Family: Shooting suspect ‘lost his mind’ after tour in Iraq
Esteban Santiago, 26, deployed in 2010 as part of the Puerto Rico National Guard, spending a year with an engineering battalion, according to Guard spokesman Maj. Paul Dahlen.
In recent years, Santiago had been living in Anchorage, Alaska, his brother, Bryan Santiago, told The Associated Press from Puerto Rico. Bryan Santiago said his brother’s girlfriend had recently called the family to alert them to his treatment.
In November, Esteban told FBI agents in Alaska that the government was controlling his mind and was forcing him to watch Islamic State group videos, a law enforcement official said. The official was not authorized to discuss an ongoing investigation by name and spoke Friday on condition of anonymity.
The FBI agents notified the police after the interview with Esteban Santiago, who took him in for a mental health evaluation.
Bryan Santiago said his brother never spoke to him directly about his medical issues.
“We have not talked for the past three weeks,” Bryan Santiago said. “That’s a bit unusual … I’m in shock. He was a serious person … He was a normal person.”
Esteban Santiago was born in New Jersey but moved to Puerto Rico when he was 2, his brother said. He grew up in the southern coastal town of Penuelas before joining the Guard in 2007.
Since returning from Iraq, Santiago served in the Army Reserves and the Alaska National Guard in Anchorage. He was serving as a combat engineer in the Guard before his discharge for “unsatisfactory performance,” said Lt. Col. Candis Olmstead, a spokeswoman. His military rank upon discharge was E3, private 1st class, and he worked one weekend a month with an additional 15 days of training yearly, Olmstead said.
She would not elaborate on his discharge, but the Pentagon said he’d gone AWOL several times and was demoted and discharged.
Still, he’d had some successes during his military career, being awarded a number of medals and commendations including the Iraq Campaign Medal and the Global War on Terrorism Service Medal.
His uncle and aunt in New Jersey were trying to make sense of what they were hearing about Santiago after his arrest at the Fort Lauderdale airport. FBI agents arrived at their house to question them, and reporters swarmed around.
Maria Ruiz told The Record that her nephew had recently become a father and was struggling.
“It was like he lost his mind,” she said in Spanish of his return from Iraq. “He said he saw things.”