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Fort Lauderdale suspect was treated for mental health issues, say relatives

Esteban Santiago had told FBI officials the government was controlling his mind and forcing him to watch Islamic State videos

The Iraq war veteran who allegedly shot and killed five people at Fort Lauderdale airport in Florida on Friday had been having mental health issues after returning from a year-long tour in the Middle East, his aunt has said.

Esteban Santiago, 26, spent time in hospital over mental health concerns after serving in Iraq, according to Maria Ruiz Rivera, who lives in Union City, New Jersey. She reportedly added that he had lost his mind.

The suspected gunman was born in New Jersey but his parents moved back to Puerto Rico when he was two or three years old. He joined the national guard in Puerto Rico before later transferring to Alaska and was deployed to Iraq in 2010.

His uncle Hernan Rivera told NJ.com: When he came out of Iraq he wasnt feeling too good. After being treated for mental health issues, Santiago then went back to Puerto Rico, where he had further therapy, family members reportedly said.

A military spokeswoman told the Associated Press that Santiago had been discharged from the national guard last year for unsatisfactory performance.

Esteban
Esteban Santiago. Photograph: AP

Esteban had attended the FBI office in the Alaskan city of Anchorage and told agents that the government was controlling his mind and forcing him to watch Islamic State videos, a law enforcement official said on condition of anonymity.

George Piro, an FBI agent in charge of the Miami field office, said Santiago had clearly indicated to the Anchorage agents that he was not intent on hurting anyone. The agents notified local police, who took Santiago in for a mental health evaluation.

Santiagos brother, Bryan, said Santiagos girlfriend had recently called the family to tell them he was again receiving treatment.

He said his brother had never spoken about his medical issues. We have not talked for the past three weeks thats a bit unusual, he said. Im in shock. He was a serious person He was a normal person.

The suspected shooter took a Delta flight from Alaska to Fort Lauderdale and had what appeared to be a 9mm handgun in his checked luggage. After claiming his bag, he went into toilets to load the gun before starting to shoot.

A witness, Mark Lea, said the gunman was silent as he fired. He didnt say anything; he was quiet the whole time, Lea said.

Another witness said the suspect was taken into custody after throwing his empty weapon down and lying spread-eagled on the ground.

The Broward county sheriff, Scott Israel, said the suspect was unharmed after his arrest. No law enforcement fired shots. He is being interviewed by FBI agents and the sheriffs office, he said.

Mobile phone video posted on social media showed passengers kneeling and treating victims on the floor next to a baggage carousel. At least two victims were visible in the footage.

Witness John Schlicher told MSNBC that Santiago was directly firing at us while passengers waited for their bags. All the people seemed to be shot in the head. He was shooting people who were down on the ground too. He said the gunman stopped to reload at least once.

Two of the victims have been unofficially named as Terry Andres, 62, of Virginia, and Olga Woltering, of Georgia. Woltering had reportedly been due to take a cruise on Saturday with her husband, Ralph, to celebrate his 90th birthday.

Locator

The shooting is likely to raise questions as to whether aviation safety officials need to change rules about passengers travelling with guns. Firearms can legally be carried in checked baggage but must be unloaded and stored in a locked and hard-walled container, according to TSA rules. Ammunition and firearms must be declared to the airline when checking baggage.

Travellers have to take off their shoes, put their carry-on luggage through x-ray machines and pass through metal detectors to reach boarding gates, but many other sections of airports, such as ticket counters and baggage claim areas, are more lightly secured and vulnerable to attack.

Floridas governor, Rick Scott, condemned the shooting as a senseless act of evil.

He said: You just cant imagine how this could ever happen in a great state like ours. Think of the innocent lives that are lost. We still have people fighting for their lives in our hospitals.

Whoever is responsible will be held accountable to the full extent of the law. Let me repeat this: the state of Florida, the citizens of Florida, law enforcement, will not tolerate evil acts. My heart goes out to every family impacted. The families who lost their loved ones, and those with loved ones still in hospital fighting for their lives.

Scott, a Republican, said he had reached out to the president-elect, Donald Trump, and the vice-president-elect, Mike Pence, several times. They told me that whatever resources we needed from the federal government, they would do everything in their power to make that happen, he said.

Scott said he had neither contacted nor heard from the president, Barack Obama. Asked why not, he responded: I have a personal relationship with Vice-president-elect Pence and President-elect Trump and I reached out to them.

Its horrible what happened here, its not time to be political, its a time to mourn those who lost their lives, finish the investigation and pray for everybody thats still fighting for their lives.

The White House said Obama had been briefed by his homeland security adviser.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2017/jan/07/florida-shooting-suspect-esteban-santiago-mental-health-fbi